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NIFLA v. Becerra: Do Anti-Abortion Counseling Centers Have the Right to Deceive Women?

Photo credit: Lorie Shaull

This week, the National Women’s Law Center filed an amicus brief, or friend of the court brief, with 50 other reproductive rights, civil rights, and social justice organizations, in support of the State of California in NIFLA v.Becerra. The case, which will be heard by the Supreme Court this term, challenges a California law, the Reproductive FACT (Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care, and Transparency) Act, which makes sure that women who cannot afford medical care are aware of the publicly funded reproductive health care options available to them, and that women know whether they are getting care and advice from medical professionals. The California Legislature passed the FACT Act with the belief that pregnant women should receive timely and accurate information about their full range of options related to pregnancy and family planning.

Anti-abortion counseling centers, which have been deceiving women about their services and intentions, want to overturn this straightforward consumer protection law. Their practices run afoul of the FACT Act because they use deceptive practices to lure women into their centers and refuse to provide the full range of reproductive health options. These centers, represented by several national organizations, sued as soon as the FACT Act was passed in 2015. The anti-abortion counseling centers lost at both federal district courts and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, so now they are appealing to the Supreme Court.

While NILFA v. Becerra considers a California-specific law that is needed to protect women from anti-abortion counseling centers, their misleading tactics are part of a well-funded national network of facilities with a long and well-documented history of using deceptive practices. As documented in our amicus brief, these centers purport to offer pregnancy-related health care and medical services, but their goal is to specifically target women seeking abortion and prevent them from accessing that care.  To that end, they intentionally conceal their religious affiliations and their anti-abortion mission, and are not honest about the services they offer, using deceptive websites and advertising methods, and confusing appearances and locations to attract women seeking abortion care under false pretenses. Likewise, many anti-abortion counseling centers present themselves as providers of bona fide medical care, but provide only limited medical services, used as tools to shame women and steer them away from abortion. Anti-abortion counseling centers also typically provide medically inaccurate information about reproductive health care, such as inaccurate depictions of the abortion procedure, using graphic images to frighten and misinform women about their reproductive health options.

Our amicus brief includes women’s stories that show that by providing false, misleading, or incomplete information, and frightening or coercing women to make certain decisions about their health care options, anti-abortion counseling centers prevent women from making time-sensitive, fully-informed decisions and endanger their health and future fertility, and have even caused women to rely on false information to continue unwanted pregnancies to term. The stories in our amicus brief show that harms are magnified for women – and in particular women of color – living in poverty or facing the pressures of low-wage work, who face logistical barriers around scheduling, wages, travel, and childcare.  For women struggling to make ends meet, taking time off of work and arranging for childcare in order to visit an anti-abortion counseling center is a significant burden; doing it again to obtain the care they actually seek is an even heavier burden.

Decisions about a pregnancy are time sensitive and women need accurate information about their full range of options right away. In NIFLA v. Becerra, the Supreme Court should take this opportunity to make clear that laws – like the California FACT Act – that do just that and protect women from the anti-abortion counseling centers’ deception and harm will stand.

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