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Fake abortion clinics are, often, easier to find than real abortion clinics. They advertise online with abortion-related search terms, and give themselves names and logos that look confusingly like those of actual healthcare clinics. But they don’t do abortions, they won’t help you get one—and they may not have any medical staff at all. Here’s how to spot them.

What are crisis pregnancy centers?

A “crisis pregnancy center” is one term that’s been applied to these fake clinics. They are often operated by religious anti-abortion groups, and their whole deal is that they want you to go to them instead of a place where you can get an abortion. They’ll waste your time (perhaps until it is too late to visit a real clinic) and potentially lie to you. The American Medical Association calls them “legal and unethical,” writing:

They strive to give the impression that they are clinical centers, offering legitimate medical services and advice, yet they are exempt from regulatory, licensure, and credentialing oversight that apply to health care facilities. Because the religious ideology of these centers’ owners and employees takes priority over the health and well-being of the women seeking care at these centers, women do not receive comprehensive, accurate, evidence-based clinical information about all available options. Although crisis pregnancy centers enjoy First Amendment rights protections, their propagation of misinformation should be regarded as an ethical violation that undermines women’s health.

These organizations’ advertising and websites often center on bringing you in to confirm your pregnancy and learn about your “options.” When you get there, you may be offered a pregnancy test (the same kind you could buy at a store) or a “limited” ultrasound, neither of which require medical training to administer. If you were hoping to a referral to an abortion provider, you’ll find that they cannot help you with that.

What to look for

If you’re looking for somewhere you can receive actual health care, including the ability to talk to someone about abortions and birth control, a crisis pregnancy center is not that place. To tell the difference, look for these red flags.

Is there fine print in the Google search results?

Google now applies a “does not provide abortions” or “might not provide abortions” label to crisis pregnancy centers that advertise under certain abortion-related search terms. (Legitimate clinics like Planned Parenthood may appropriately be labeled “provides abortions.”) But, as Bloomberg reports, they only do this if you’ve searched for certain terms, and if the result you’re looking at is an ad.

I tried this out, and it’s definitely true for the searches I did. Googling for “abortions” with the name of my city turns up clinics that provide abortions, properly labeled. Great! But when I search for “pregnancy options” and the city name, all of the top results are fake clinics with medical-sounding names. They are the same centers that the abortion search labels as not providing abortions, but in this search, they are not labeled.

If you’re using a Google search, consider using the actual word “abortion” in your search terms. Our friends at Gizmodo recommend using the Tor browser if you want to keep your search private.

What services do they provide?

Real clinics like Planned Parenthood are up front about the services they provide: Abortion services and other healthcare services are spelled out in no uncertain terms.

But on crisis pregnancy centers’ websites, you’ll often find that there is no solid information given about abortion procedures or even birth control. Instead, typical offerings are pregnancy tests, ultrasounds, and “consultations.” There may be some vague mentions of “birth control” that turn out to be counseling about “natural” methods that do not include pills or IUDs.

These services often turn out to be medical cosplay. Ultrasounds may look and feel like medical procedures, but you don’t need to be a licensed technician (in most states) to turn on the machine and rub it on someone’s belly. Crisis pregnancy centers have been found to give people inaccurate information about their pregnancies after an ultrasound, including giving people the impression that their pregnancy is too far along to be eligible for an abortion.

Is everything free?

Many legitimate clinics offer financial assistance, accept insurance and Medicaid, or otherwise offer ways to help you get the services you need even if you’re short on cash. Free services may fit into that picture, so they’re not a red flag all by themselves. But if everything is free, there’s never any mention of payment, and they offer this to everyone up front? That’s definitely worth a critical look. Remember, if they’re just trying to talk you into keeping a pregnancy, that’s not a professional service that costs big bucks to provide.

Watch for manipulative language

Dental clinics don’t advertise with lines like “Scared? Confused? Thinking about getting your teeth cleaned? Learn about your options.” They just say, hey, we’re dentists, you can book a cleaning or exam when you’re ready.

That’s what you should expect when you find a legitimate clinic website. Straightforward information, not pictures of worried young women with reassurances that you can confidentially “make a plan” and that pregnancy
“doesn’t have to cost you your hope or future.”

If you poke around crisis pregnancy centers’ websites, you’ll find even less subtle stuff. Like this page “for men” that encourages your boyfriend to tell “parents and others” about the pregnancy because “keeping this a secret will only add to the stress—yours and hers.” Boyfriends of the world, do not do this.

If you’re ever not sure about the tone of something you read on a clinic’s website, try to imagine it coming from a dentist. List of services offered? Sure. A page about how your partner should discuss the details of your care with your family? Uh, no.

Educate yourself about abortion before reading their websites

Crisis pregnancy centers often spread misinformation about abortion, explicitly or implicitly. They may insinuate that abortion is risky (it is far safer than pregnancy) or that people often regret having one (95% do not). They may offer “abortion reversal,” which is not a thing.

Both real and fake clinics may have information about the risks of abortion on their websites. The difference is that the crisis pregnancy centers are trying to scare you; the real clinics provide information on how commonly complications occur, and how they are treated when they do. Here is one example of an appropriate discussion of risks.

If you have questions or concerns about abortion or any other reproductive health care, go to a legitimate source (even if it is not a provider near you) and read up. Planned Parenthood has a wealth of information available online, for starters.

Planned Parenthood also recommends the All Options Talkline, which provides the kind of peer counseling that crisis pregnancy centers pretend they provide: non-biased conversations where you can get information about all the options available to you. They also recommend the Faith Aloud clergy counseling line, which can provide religious and spiritual counseling around pregnancy without trying to influence your healthcare decisions, if that’s something you’re looking for.

Start with known legitimate sources

Instead of searching for clinics generally, start with a place you know will refer you to legitimate healthcare organizations. Some online tools that allow you to search for providers near you include: 

You may also want to check out the Expose Fake Clinics project, which keeps a listing of crisis pregnancy centers.

And don’t forget other medical providers. If you feel comfortable talking to your primary care provider or your ob/gyn about your interest in an abortion, they may be able to refer you to someone appropriate.

   



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