Abortion Access Act aims to combat the deceptive practices of anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centers.

by Catherine Walthers

When a pregnant woman or person in Massachusetts chooses to end her pregnancy there are approximately 25 licensed hospitals or independent clinics here that can legally provide those services, in addition to the option of obtaining medication to safely induce an abortion at home up to 10 weeks into a pregnancy.

There are also some 35 places in Massachusetts that advertise pregnancy or abortion information and counseling to pregnant women that provide no abortion care services at all, yet some women mistakenly end up there.

These anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centers do everything they can do to look like they provide care, but are often unlicensed, have no medical staff and do not provide abortions or administer medication abortion. They typically hide the fact they are anti-abortion centers. A nationwide report about these fake centers called Designed to Deceive reveals they are designed to do just that, hide their true purpose to prevent women from getting the abortion care they are seeking. And they deliberately go after people of color and low-income residents by offering various free services, such as pregnancy tests.

A bill being filed in the MA statehouse this session aims to deal with these anti-abortions centers head on, also referred to as fake clinics or crisis pregnancy centers. Senator Becca Rausch (D-Needham) and Representative Sally Kerans (D-13th Essex) have filed the Abortion Access Act (Senate 1854; House 3434) to curb these deceptive practices, and at the same time expand reproductive care in other ways.

“I am proud to build on our prior strong work on access to abortion care by filing the Abortion Access Act this legislative session,” said Senator Rausch. “This bill would remove still-present barriers to care, enhance patient confidentiality, protect against new restrictions emerging, and further address anti-choice crisis pregnancy centers that mislead and intimidate patients. Our work is far from over and, as always, I remain committed to advancing reproductive health care in Massachusetts.”

Along with the 35 anti-abortion centers in Massachusetts, the largest concentration in New England, there are more than 2,500 spread across the country. The report, Designed to Deceive, looked closely at 607 of these centers in 9 states and described some of the ways these centers try to dissuade women from getting an abortion:

Some give medically inaccurate information, such as telling women that an abortion will perforate their uterus and prevent any future pregnancy or that people who have had abortions suffer from “post-abortion syndrome” trauma, a non-existent diagnosis debunked by medical professionals. Attempts to delay treatment is a common tactic, encouraging women they don’t need to make their decision right away and to take time to think about it, so women miss the 10-week cutoff for medication abortion. A number offer free non-diagnostic ultrasounds attempting to display the screen and describe the image in detail to influence or coerce a pregnant person’s decision-making. The National Institute of Family and Life Advocates, an evangelical Christian law firm for the anti-abortion movement, promotes ultrasound technology at these centers to allow clients “the opportunity to see the wonderful handiwork of the Creator.”

According to Senator Rausch, the Abortion Access Act seeks to combat some of the unsavory tactics anti-abortion centers use by:

  • preventing pregnant people from receiving counseling or information that is medically inaccurate or misleading
  • preventing anyone from having to wait for any period of time that is beyond the standard of care
  • preventing anyone from being required to undergo an ultrasound inconsistent with standard medical care or then be required to “review, see, or heat the results of an ultrasound”

Rausch’s and Kerans’ bill (Bill SD 1854 and HD 3434) also calls for the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) to orchestrate a “robust and culturally competent” statewide educational campaign warning about these deceptive centers and practices. If approved, the DPH will “educate providers and the public about so-called crisis pregnancy centers and pregnancy resource centers, including without limitation the lack of medical services or licensed medial professional at said centers…”

Senator Rausch said she hopes the $1 million allocated by the statehouse in last year’s budget to fund this campaign but vetoed by outgoing Governor Baker will be put back into this year’s annual budget and get approval under a Healey administration. Last year, the attorney general’s office under then AG Healey, issued warnings to consumers about the misleading claims made by these anti-abortion centers. The new Attorney General, Andrea Campbell, plans to focus on these centers as well, in addition to overall reproductive justice.

The bill also directs the state health department to offer a list of legitimate provider facilities on its website and to update that list annually. And the Abortion Access Act protects any future efforts to curtail provider facilities. It prevents them from having to be constructed within a specific distance from a hospital and would stop the requirement of any medically unnecessary physical size or space specifications. Further, the bill would prevent provider facilities from having to hire only providers with admitting privileges at a hospital, with a provision to allow the attorney general to enforce these laws.