July 27, 2016 — Oakland, California, last week became the second U.S. city to pass an ordinance deterring antiabortion-rights crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) from engaging in misleading advertising practices that deceptively suggest they provide abortion care, the Huffington Post reports.
Concern over CPCs' practices
Officials in Oakland have raised concerns about antiabortion-rights groups' false advertising on the internet and on mass transit billboards. Officials note that the groups target pregnant women seeking abortion care with the intention of drawing them to CPCs, which aim to deter or prevent them from having an abortion.
CPCs purchase internet search ads for terms such as "abortion" or "pregnancy test" to ensure links for their centers' websites appear higher in search engine results. The websites often will note that they provide services such as "abortion information" or "counseling for women seeking abortion."
Annie Campbell Washington, vice mayor of Oakland, noted that CPCs' practices can delay women's access to abortion care. She explained that such delays could force a woman to postpone abortion care until later in pregnancy, potentially until after the point in pregnancy at which she can no longer obtain abortion care.
The Oakland ordinance expands on protections for pregnant women included in a recently enacted state law. Under California's Reproductive Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care, and Transparency Act (AB 775) licensed facilities that provide services related to pregnancy and family planning must inform women how and where they can access affordable and timely abortion, contraception and prenatal care services. Unlicensed facilities must disclose to patients that the facilities are not licensed and that they have no licensed providers on staff (Women's Health Policy Report, 6/30).
Under the Oakland ordinance, the city attorney could sue and fine CPCs that decline to remove deceptive advertisements (Huffington Post, 7/25). CPCs that falsely claim to provide abortion care could be fined between $50 and $500 per violation (Women's Health Policy Report, 6/30).
Amy Everitt, director of NARAL Pro-Choice California, praised the ordinance. "When women are seeking reproductive health care, it is time-sensitive and urgent," she said, adding, "When you put an entity or organization in the way that's specifically targeting them to deceive them into wasting their time and delay them from accessing other care, what that creates for the women and families of California is a public harm."
According to the Huffington Post, the Alameda County Public Health Department (ACPHD) also voiced support for the ordinance, noting that CPCs target low-income communities, force a woman to postpone care until the point at which she cannot obtain an abortion and delay submitting lab results and medical records to health care providers. In a letter, ACPHD said, "We do not have the resources to compete with the misleading advertising of [CPCs]."
Separately, Oakland City Attorney Barbara Parker said, "If [the CPCs'] message is truly compelling, they should have no problem being honest about what they do and do not offer." She added, "If they refuse to be honest, the City Attorney will have the power to sue violators to hold them accountable" (Huffington Post, 7/25).