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California’s Reproductive FACT Act: A Step in the Right Direction

It’s a new year which in California means a new opportunity to address the hurdles women face when trying to access information about their reproductive health. As of January 1st 2016, the California Reproductive Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care and Transparency  (Reproductive FACT) Act went into effect. This means that all licensed crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) in California will have to post signage that helps a woman facing an unplanned pregnancy know all of her options for getting the information she needs.

Crisis pregnancy centers often mislead women

CPCs are religiously affiliated organizations that are set up to attract women facing an unplanned pregnancy. They often advertise holistic and medically informed reproductive health services. Because of their advertising strategies and names, a woman may go to a center seeking assistance or information about her options, including information about abortion and birth control. However, accounts show that CPCs often give women biased and sometimes inaccurate information, and do not provide birth control and abortion information or services.

Health care / reproductive rights homepageStudies have shown that CPCs use lies to coerce women into staying pregnant. Ninety-one percent of CPCs investigated in California falsely stated that abortions are linked to suicide, cancer, and/or future reproductive complications.  One CPC, for example, told a woman that she would become infertile if she received an abortion while another CPC told a different woman she would get breast cancer.

In addition to dispersing false medical information, CPCs are known to shame and judge women in order to manipulate them into carrying a pregnancy to term. One woman who sought information about abortion from a California CPC was told to move back home and get help raising a baby even though she had explained that having a baby would derail her school plans. Unfortunately, reports like these are not uncommon [PDF].

California took an important step to ensure women have accurate information

Each year, approximately 800,000 women become pregnant in California and roughly half of these pregnancies are unintended. Pregnancy decisions are time sensitive, yet many women are unaware of public programs that offer the full range of contraception, abortion, prenatal care, and family planning services. A woman who enters a CPC may not realize she is not getting the comprehensive family planning services she needs. The Reproductive FACT Act facilitates a woman’s access to important information about existing resources by requiring licensed CPCs to have conspicuous signage or handouts that provide the telephone number a woman can call to see if she qualifies for these important public programs.

When seeking information about vital reproductive health options, women also should know when they are receiving medical care from licensed professionals.The Reproductive FACT Act requires all unlicensed CPCs to inform clients that these facilities are not medically licensed by the state of California. A woman making a decision that impacts her life — economically, educationally, or otherwise — needs facts.

Looking ahead

Women decide whether or not to carry a pregnancy to term for personal and important reasons. All decisions deserve support. While California’s new law does not completely protect a woman from being shamed or lied to, it does provide an opportunity for a woman in a crisis pregnancy center to access other options to get the information and support she may need. It’s a new year and hopefully the FACT Act is only one of many cracks to the barriers women face when trying to obtain information about their reproductive health.

It's time for change, and we must act now. Time's up.