There are roughly 4,000 fake reproductive health clinics operating across the country, according to the pro-choice nonprofit NARAL Pro-Choice America. These clinics, also known as “crisis pregnancy centers,” operate with the sole purpose of dissuading women from aborting their pregnancies and can be nearly indistinguishable from the real thing. Though you wouldn’t expect them to find them in a liberal city like New York, there are nearly as many fake abortion clinics as real ones here — and a map created by an organization called Pro-Truth shows just how prevalent they are across the state.
“Most of us have heard about these places, but they assumed they operated in other states, not in New York City,” said Andrea Salwen Kopel, the executive director of the National Coalition of Jewish Women in New York, at a Friday press conference at City Hall. She was there to announce the launch of Pro-Truth, a new initiative by the NCJW NY which is backed by Planned Parenthood NYC and several other nonprofits and seeks not only to inform New Yorkers about these fake clinics, but to provide them with the resources they need to find legitimate healthcare providers. According to the organization’s map, there are at least 11 of these clinics in the five boroughs, many of which are clustered in low-income communities of color and some of which are just steps away from legitimate abortion providers.
The fake clinics don’t have any real medical personnel on staff. They lure patients with free pregnancy tests and ultrasounds, which they then use as opportunities to evangelize about the miracle of life and scare them out of seeking an abortion. Elizabeth Estrada, the field and advocacy manager of the New York Latina Advocacy Network, said she spoke with a patient who was told she would “bleed out and fall into a coma” if she had an abortion.
An organization called Expectant Mother Care Frontline owns and operates a network of these fake reproductive health clinics in New York City. One EMC location in the Bronx is located right across the street from a Planned Parenthood. On its website, EMC describes itself as “rescuing moms and babies at highest risk in NYC — The Abortion Capital,” and claims its services have “saved 43,000 Babies” in New York alone. A 2013 investigation by the New York Attorney General’s office found that EMC “may be engaged in the unauthorized practice of medicine,” but the organization still has clinics open across the city. (The Outline reached out to Chris Slattery, EMC’s founder and president, asking how many centers EMC operates. We’ll update this post if we hear back.))
Aviva Zadoff, NCNW NY’s director of advocacy and volunteer engagement, told The Outline that these fake clinics disproportionately target vulnerable women. “They target low-income women specifically, who might not have other resources, for whom the idea of a free pregnancy test or free services is very appealing,” Zadoff said. “They specifically target Latina women, immigrant communities, and people who are not native English speakers and might not know all their options and resources.”
Since 2016, the city has required the fake clinics clearly post signs educating potential clients about what services they do and do not offer. But at the press conference this morning, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer said her office conducted an investigation of these centers and found that many clinics didn’t post the required disclosures anywhere, including on their websites. According to a Rewire report from February, the Department of Consumer Affairs issued its first fines earlier this year: A $1,500 fine levied against EMC Frontline for failing to put the disclosures in its facilities or on its website.
Though the city government has taken some measures against these facilities, there is no similar law at the state level — and, according to the Pro-Truth map, these fake abortion clinics are especially prevalent in rural communities upstate, many of which are several hours away from legitimate reproductive health providers.
Of course, New York’s crisis pregnancy centers are a small sliver of the overall problem. California, which has an estimated 200 crisis pregnancy centers, passed the Reproductive FACT Act in 2015, which requires these clinics to include a government-written notice about abortion services and contraceptive options in their advertising. That law is now being challenged by the Supreme Court on First Amendment grounds, with several justices arguing that requiring religious organizations to post these notices is a violation of their freedom of religion.
Pro-choice advocates, though, maintain that laws like the ones in New York City and California are essential in protecting women’s access to quality reproductive health services.
Joann Simon, a New York State Assembly member who was at the NCJW press conference on Friday, said these centers are allowed to continue operations because they mislead women, not the general population. “If it was any other kind of clinic — if it was a cancer clinic that existed to treat cancer with prayer alone, or with advice to not get help — they would be shut down immediately,” Simon said. “The only reason this happens is because it’s about women.”