Backlash growing over so-called ‘fake clinics’

The Supreme Court is expected to be just days away from issuing a ruling that could overturn Roe v. Wade.

In anticipation of that ruling, lawmakers and physicians are warning against so-called “fake clinics.” Reproductive rights activists describe them as pregnancy crisis centers that use “bait-and-switch” tactics. The centers are accused of showing information about abortion services on their websites but later redirecting women who seek in-person care.

“Unfortunately, it is a trap for people who come there. And really what they’re trying to do is to (prevent) people from being able to obtain abortions in various ways,’’ says Dr. Jennifer Chin, an OBGYN and fellow with the Physicians for Reproductive Health organization. “One of the ways is that they provide very biased counseling where they essentially encourage patients who come to them to continue the pregnancy.”

Heather Vasquez says that’s not a fair representation of crisis centers. She says this about Next Step Pregnancy Services, where she’s the Executive Director: “Our clients are not discouraged from abortion but rather encouraged to discuss ALL options and ensure they have all the facts,” Vasquez said. “Next Step does not profit from the reproductive decisions our clients make. We are a safe place to talk, to cry, to ask questions, to get help.”

A website called Expose Fake Clinics outlines pregnancy clinics across the country that it deems “fake clinics.” More than 50 are located in Washington alone.

One of the clinics on that list is Life Choice Pregnancy Medical Center of Yakima. Its executive director, Dr. Joddi-Jay Babcock, says they are not a “fake clinic,” but she understands the need for transparency of prenatal services.

Regarding her clinic, Dr. Babcock says, “(We) need to be careful about our advertising, but we also want to be honest. So on our website, it does say ‘free abortion screening’ or ‘pre-abortion consultations.’ And when someone calls in, we let them know that we do not refer or provide abortion. We provide information to help them to be able to understand other options.”

Another pregnancy clinic on the list also spoke with KIRO 7. Marta Matos with Next Step Pregnancy Services says it’s inaccurate to call these clinics “fake.”

“I am here working today and have helped a mom who recently was in a car crash and using a walker to get a pack ‘n’ play she needed for her child, shoes, clothes and wipes. This is what we do. We support local families, women who are pregnant, and parents with young kids,” says Matos. “We offer ultrasounds to women who want them, to help ease their mind if they are concerned or figure out how far along they are if they do not know. We are here to support moms and families. I do not understand how this makes us a ‘fake-clinic?’”

But Dr. Chin says when clinics aren’t transparent, women can’t get timely services, and that delay can limit their options.

“It’s one thing for someone to miss an appointment for a blood pressure check with their primary care provider,” says Dr. Chin. “However, when we’re talking about seeking out abortion services, there really is a ticking time bomb.”

She says this is an issue particularly in states that have designated abortion bans beginning at certain weeks.

But the confusion over a clinic’s resources often begins with an internet search. KIRO 7 tried an online search of local abortion clinics, and many of the clinics listed at the top of the search did not offer abortion resources.

That search engine issue prompted legislators to take action. A group of 21 federal lawmakers issued a letter to the CEO of Google last week. In the letter, they outline “disturbing new reports that Google has been directing users who search for abortion services towards anti-abortion ‘fake clinics.’” The letter also states that “directing women towards fake clinics … is dangerous to women’s health and undermines the integrity of Google’s search results.”

Dr. Chin says Google’s actions and the actions of “fake clinics” can’t be taken lightly.

“Potentially receiving inaccurate information in one day could really alter the course of a person’s life,” says Dr. Chin.

Dr. Babcock says despite the label of a “fake clinic,” her clinic offers very real services for expectant and new mothers free of charge.

“I believe that the right to choose means the right to make a fully informed choice,” says Dr. Babcock. “Any expectant mom should find a place that values and supports her. She should have someone who will listen and advocate for her. She should find a place where she feels comfortable and safe — to ask questions about anything really — in order to be informed about all the decisions that are going to be made during birth and early parenthood.”