Op-ed denounces efforts by Oakland CPCs to spread 'barrage of medical misinformation'

July 21, 2016 — "What may surprise" people searching online for an abortion clinic are ads that "offe[r] 'abortion consultation' that is '100 percent confidential' from 'sensitive and caring staff,'" but which often do not lead "to real health care clinics," Annie Campbell Washington, vice mayor of Oakland, and Barbara Parker, city attorney for Oakland City, write in an East Bay Times opinion piece.

According to Campbell Washington and Parker, many of the ads "take you to facilities that misrepresent themselves as medical clinics or objective health care counselors when, in reality, they are fronts for activists whose sole purpose is to delay and obstruct women's ability to exercise their constitutional right to abortion."

Campbell Washington and Parker explain that not only do these crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) "use deliberately vague and misleading advertising to target" women seeking abortion care, but they also subject women to antiabortion-rights claims "that have been thoroughly debunked by the medical community." In addition, according to the authors, CPCs "use shame and manipulation to push women toward continuing their pregnancies, regardless of their circumstances or personal choices."

Noting that "[m]isleading or lying to pregnant women who are seeking time-sensitive medical care can be extremely harmful," the authors write that last month, they proposed the Pregnancy Information Disclosure and Protection Ordinance. The ordinance, which was approved by the Oakland City Council earlier this month, aims "to call attention to this fraud and to send a clear message to those responsible: Our city will not stand for intentional deception of patients seeking health care," the authors write.

Specifically, the ordinance would bar "false, misleading and/or deceptive statements that confuse and jeopardize the health and well-being of women who are seeking critical health care services." According to the authors, the measure also would allow the city attorney "to sue violators and collect civil penalties and attorney's fees, helping to put an end to these injustices against women."

"We introduced this law because we want women to be aware that these phony clinics exist," as well as to ensure CPCs do not participate in "deceptive business practices," Campbell Washington and Parker write. They conclude, "If [CPCs'] 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, Oakland is ready to hold them accountable" (Washington/Parker, East Bay Times, 7/18).