In March 2022, the Somerville City Council effectively banned crisis pregnancy centers within their city, falsely labeling them as deceptive, “limited-service centers” because they don’t provide or refer for abortions. Somerville is not home to a pregnancy resource center but, nonetheless, the city council wanted to ‘protect’ its residents from what it called “anti-abortion fake women’s health centers.”
The ordinance was co-sponsored by the entire Somerville city council, revealing the kind of animus that exists in the city against even the idea of centers offering services and tangible support for pregnant women, instead of abortion. The lead sponsor of the ordinance expressed her hopes that Somerville’s example would spread to other cities in Massachusetts because, in her words, PRCs outnumber “legitimate reproductive care providers [abortion clinics]” three-to-one in the Commonwealth. Unfortunately, this seems to be happening as several cities in Massachusetts are considering local ordinances to restrict PRCs.
As I discussed above, Easthampton is one of those cities. It recently held hearings on whether it should adopt an ordinance that would fine PRCs $500 per incident of so-called ‘deceptive advertising practices,’ a vague and circularly defined term which could extend to simply not offering abortion services. When the ordinance was initially proposed, Easthampton’s city councilors did not seem to be aware of the existence, or life-saving work, of Bethlehem House in their community.
Fortunately, Easthampton serves as an example of how residents are successfully working with MFI to push back. At one of the initial hearings, MFI helped to mobilize more than 20 advocates who spoke up to defend life and question the legality of these ordinances. And at the second hearing? Over 100. Despite both Planned Parenthood and Reproductive Equity Now pushing for this ordinance, the Easthampton mayor demurred, saying: “Easthampton is best served by monitoring legal positions rather than pursuing unsettled law.” Again, it was just a few weeks after these hearings that Bethlehem House was vandalized by Jane’s Revenge.
State Smear Campaign
In addition to city councilors, Massachusetts state legislators also seemed interested in limiting the influence and work of PRCs. The proposed Economic Development bill recently under discussion at the State House (SB 3018 and HB 5034), further targets PRCs in Massachusetts.
The proposed bill would also set aside one million dollars for a ‘public awareness campaign’ to educate providers and the public about “so called crisis pregnancy centers… and their lack of medical services.” For our state officials, it is not sufficient to use taxpayer funds to actively promote abortion facilities over centers that seek to help women experiencing unplanned pregnancies. The state also wants to explicitly campaign against ‘so called crisis pregnancy centers and pregnancy resource centers’ and their supposed lack of medical services.
Clearly, our state legislators are unaware that many of these centers are in fact licensed medical clinics staffed by nurses and doctors. They offer STI testing, pregnancy tests, ultrasounds, pre-natal visits, as well as other supportive services. But no matter what array of services is offered by these centers, it is evident that their mere existence is problematic to Beacon Hill elites who believe abortion constitutes the only ‘legitimate’ kind of care pregnant women need or desire.
Fortunately, the proposed bill was not passed into law by the end of the legislative session last month. However, MFI will continue to monitor its status at the State House, as there is a chance it could be revisited during a special legislative session. Alternatively, it’s possible that the language proposing the grant fund and the million-dollar campaign could be added to another bill in an upcoming legislative session.
Federal ‘prohibition on disinformation’
At the federal level, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren is leading the charge to “crack-down on so-called ‘crisis pregnancy centers’ that deceive and mislead” women seeking abortions. Warren and several of her fellow Democrats are seeking to “prohibit disinformation in the advertising of abortion services” and have introduced a bill that could impose heavy fines on entities that violate the as yet-to-be-defined disinformation rules.
Warren’s egregious bill would have the Federal Trade Commission create and promulgate rules prohibiting advertising with “misleading statements related to the provision of abortion services.” Pregnancy resource centers found to be in violation of these disinformation rules could be fined $100,000 or “50 percent of the revenues earned by the ultimate parent entity.” These fines would be devastating for the average pregnancy center, which is dependent upon donations for its survival.
Not content to threaten and destroy so-called ‘misleading anti-abortion fake clinics,’ in June, Warren and twenty of her colleagues penned a letter to Google urging the company to actively suppress search results of pregnancy resource centers. They also demanded the company add ‘user-friendly disclaimers’ to Google maps, Google Ads, and search results to ensure that women received “accurate” information.
It is clear our leaders at the local, state, and national level are eager to use every tool at their disposal to curtail the life-affirming work of any PRC seeking to support women and families experiencing unplanned pregnancies.
What happened to choice?
What a change! It used to be that abortion advocates cloaked their cause in terms of ‘choice.’ According to abortion advocates, women in unplanned pregnancies were capable of making informed decisions and therefore needed options.
Today, both their actions and words reveal their belief that abortion is the only legitimate option in the case of an unplanned pregnancy. These advocates view any organization that offers free, life-affirming services to pregnant women as illegitimate, fake, and misleading. Further, they believe these centers must be put out of business. As Warren stated so succinctly: “We need to shut the[se centers] down in Massachusetts, and we need to shut them down all the around the country.”
Although this effort is already well underway here in the Bay State, Massachusetts Family Institute is committed to supporting pregnancy resource centers, the work they do, and their right to exist alongside the many abortion clinics of the Commonwealth. Last month, MFI facilitated a press-release on behalf of the Massachusetts Coalition of Pregnancy Resource Centers challenging both Senator Warren and Attorney General Healey to “come and see who we are and what we do.”
In the press release put out by MFI, the Coalition outlined its members’ history of honest, truthful communication with clients, and of clearly advertising services offered. The Coalition also highlighted the many services they offer to clients free of charge, including 1,500 pregnancy tests and over 1,200 ultrasounds, as well as distribution of over $250,000 of free goods to 3,000 women in 2021 alone.
Massachusetts Family Institute will continue to stand by these centers, promoting their life-affirming work and helping to defend them in court should legal challenges be required to ensure their right to exist. Let’s not allow this multi-pronged attack to shut down any pregnancy resource center in our communities.
For our families,
President & General Counsel