You may have seen billboards or magazine ads for women’s clinics called crisis-pregnancy centers. Riding the F subway train in New York City, I regularly see a poster that features an anxious-looking teenage girl under the headline: “Free Abortion Alternatives: FREE Confidential Options Counseling.” Now the New York City Council is cracking down on these advertisements.
New legislation introduced Tuesday aims to force crisis-pregnancy clinics to explicitly state in advertisements, websites and in their offices that they do not offer abortions, contraceptives or any type of abortion referral. Clinics that don’t have a doctor on premises would also have to state that upfront.
The issue, according to New York City Council members backing the legislation, is that these clinics deceive women into thinking they are politically neutral medical centers when in fact they are anti-abortion counseling services. (More on Time.com: 5 Pregnancy Taboos Explained (or Debunked))
“These are anti-choice centers masquerading as health clinics,” Council Member Jessica Lapin — the bill’s primary sponsor — told the Wall Street Journal. “Women who are scared and vulnerable and having a very tough decision to make have a right to factually accurate medical information, and the fact that these folks would purposely try to mislead them is not right.”
Legislation similar to the bill unveiled in New York is already in place in other cities, including Austin and Baltimore. But with an estimated 2,300 crisis-pregnancy centers operating nationwide — and at least a dozen in New York City — most advertising goes unchecked. (More on Time.com: Health Check-Up: Women & Health)
The WSJ reports that an investigation by NARAL Pro-Choice New York Foundation and the National Institute for Reproductive Health found that the clinics used medically inaccurate information to mislead women:
The groups sent women pretending to be pregnant to the centers, and they received misinformation and experienced scare tactics, the report says. At one center in Queens, a woman was falsely told abortion could cause breast cancer, and there was literature there asking, “Is it really necessary to kill your baby?” the report says.
Nearly 40% of the city’s centers present themselves as entirely neutral, hiding their “anti-choice bias,” the report says.
“I don’t have any problem with their right to exist — that’s not what this is about,” said Kelli Conlin, president of NARAL Pro-Choice New York. “This is about mandating that they are absolutely upfront and honest about their ideology.”
Supporters of crisis-pregnancy centers believe that New York City’s bill is a politically motivated attack by abortion-rights groups, and a violation of First Amendment rights. But this isn’t the first time the centers have been investigated: last year, UCLA students teamed up with the Feminist Majority Foundation to uncover the medically inaccurate counseling at pro-life centers. One participant reported that a center she visited was laid out and operated — with staff members in white coats — to resemble a medical clinic.
New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who backs the bill, said it is a demand for “truth in advertising.”
More on Time.com: