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Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Oakland adopts ordinance banning false advertising by anti-choice “crisis pregnancy centers”

OAKLAND, CA – On July 19, the Oakland City Council unanimously passed an ordinance that makes it illegal for so-called crisis pregnancy centers to misrepresent themselves as medical clinics or objective health care counselors when in reality they are fronts for anti-abortion activists. The vote makes Oakland the second city in the nation to proactively ban false advertising by CPCs after San Francisco passed a similar ordinance in 2011.

In recent years, it has become common for anti-choice activists to establish facilities – often called crisis pregnancy centers or limited services pregnancy centers – that are advertised as reproductive health care clinics or objective health care counselors. Women seeking these services instead find themselves at a facility run by activists whose sole purpose is to delay and obstruct women’s ability to exercise their constitutional right to abortion.  

Vice Mayor Annie Campbell Washington, City Attorney Barbara Parker and City Councilmembers Abel Guillen and Rebecca Kaplan co-sponsored the Pregnancy Information Disclosure and Protection Ordinance to prevent crisis pregnancy centers from deceiving pregnant women about the services they provide.

“With the national news of Republican nominee Donald Trump’s running mate selection in mind, we believe this cause is more important than ever. The VP pick, Governor Mike Pence, is a well-known leader in the crusade against a woman’s right to choose. His joining the presidential ticket is a great threat to abortion access across the country,” said Vice Mayor Annie Campbell Washington. “Now more than ever, it is vital that we establish strong model legislation with clear boundaries around deceptive and misleading practices.”

“We introduced this law because we want women to be aware that these phony clinics exist, and we want to send a clear message that false advertising and deceptive business practices will not be tolerated in Oakland,” City Attorney Barbara Parker said. “Oakland respects the activists' right to express their views and counsel against abortion. If their message is truly compelling, they should have no problem being honest about what they do and do not offer. If they refuse to be honest, the City Attorney will have the power to sue violators to hold them accountable.”

Some of crisis pregnancy centers are licensed to provide some medical services to pregnant women, and some openly acknowledge their anti-abortion mission. However, many are not licensed to provide medical treatment, and seek to mislead potential clients into believing that their facilities offer abortion services and unbiased counseling.

This misleading of pregnant women seeking medical advice and/or care has the potential to be extremely harmful, as even slight delays can have serious impacts on a patient’s health care options.

The facilities often purchase "pay per click" ads on online search services such as Google for terms such as "abortion," so that women searching for abortion services will see a link and advertisement for the center at the top of the results page.  Many crisis pregnancy centers advertise on billboards, bus stops and the Internet. Some use logos or names that are similar to legitimate health care providers, leading to confusion about the nature of their services.

Women who enter these facilities are hit with a barrage of medical misinformation. The facilities often tell women that abortion causes breast cancer, infertility and mental health problems – all claims that have been thoroughly debunked by the medical community. And they use shame and manipulation to push women toward continuing their pregnancies, regardless of their circumstances or personal choices.

The State of California recently recognized this problem and passed the Reproductive FACT Act. Proponents of the centers’ ability to mislead women seeking health care services have filed suit for their right to withhold information from clients.

The City of Oakland respects the right of crisis pregnancy centers to counsel against abortion if they are honest about the services they provide – and don’t provide. Under the proposed law, the centers will be prohibited from making false, misleading and/or deceptive statements in order to confuse women who are seeking critical health care services. This law will give the City Attorney the power to sue violators and collect civil penalties and attorney’s fees, helping to put an end to these injustices against women.

“There's no excuse for lying to women seeking time-sensitive health care," said Amy Everitt, state director of NARAL Pro-Choice California. "Oakland has set an example for the rest of the state and the country by taking proactive steps to protect women's health and hold crisis pregnancy centers accountable.”

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