How Oakland Is Doubling Down On Misleading Anti-Choice Propaganda

This week, Oakland, California became the second city to pass a law cracking down on anti-choice abortion propaganda and fake clinics, after San Francisco passed similar regulations back in 2011. Oakland’s city council passed measures against billboards and online ads that deceptively claim they perform abortions or offer emergency contraceptive care when the organizations merely try to dissuade or discourage women from having abortions. “Clinics” or other entities in violation of this can now be fined and sued by the city attorney if they refuse to take down the misleading ads.

Amy Everitt, NARAL Pro-Choice California director, told the Huffingint Post organizations “wasting [women’s] time and delaying them from accessing other care” formed a “public harm,” and what’s frankly terrifying is just how widespread this “public harm” is in the state of California. Everitt noted how searching for nearby abortion clinics on Google heeded many local centers that didn’t provide the service or really anything but anti-choice counseling. According to one Planned Parenthood spokeswoman, the women’s health organization has roughly 115 clinics open throughout California, compared with the 190 “crisis pregnancy centers” the California ProLife Council boasts. It’s worth noting these deceptive clinics are difficult to track, as they frequently change names.

The city’s attorney referenced the websites of numerous crisis pregnancy centers, citing countless lines biased against abortion and contradicting science. Some went as far as listing false health hazards of the Plan B pill, while others lied that miscarriages were commonplace, rendering abortion entirely unnecessary.

Crisis pregnancy centers that don’t provide abortion services or offer other crucial reproductive health care prey on women with unplanned pregnancies and typically feed them the usual anti-choice bullshit, from how most women who have abortions wind up regretting their choice (in reality, 99 percent of women who have abortions don’t regret their choice), to how abortion is dangerous and giving birth would be much safer (in reality, women are 14 times more likely to die giving birth than having an abortion), to a barely developed fetus’ capacity to feel pain (in reality, there is literally zero evidence of this). 

The existence of misleading, deceptive clinics is as powerful a threat to women as anti-choice laws, as they strip women of their autonomy by rendering it impossible for them to make informed decisions about their bodies and lives. But ultimately, much like waiting periods or the forced closure of clinics, aggressive, dishonest counseling won’t exactly stop women from having abortions, either, because when you really need something, as most women seeking abortions do, obstacles and misinformation aren’t going to stop you.

Sen. Patty Murray Discusses Komen's Turnaround In Their Planned Parenthood Funding
CREDIT: Stephen Brashear/Getty Images

Restrictions and heaps of pressure and shame aren’t going to stop women from getting abortions, as is well within their constitutional rights. They generally just make it more difficult and dangerous for them, spurring them to travel, have the procedure later into the pregnancy, or even perform self-induced abortions, according to research compiled by Guttmacher and plenty of other research institutions.

But deceptive crisis pregnancy centers and their misinformation do inflict substantial harm on the pro-choice movement in terms of the lies and stigma they attach to a procedure that’s already so maligned in our culture and in our politics. The fact of the matter is that abortion is a safe, simple procedure that women of all faiths and circumstances not only have the right to, but should also have full and unhinged access to.

Crisis pregnancy centers that claim to “help” women and offer them “choices” only exist to demonize the procedure, equating it with murder and thus encouraging retaliatory violence against providers and women, whether or not this is the intent of the misinformation. But arguably worst of all, these clinics position abortion access as unnecessary, as if women having the choice to be or not to be a mother is no big deal, as if just sucking it up and carrying a baby to term just to satisfy someone’s notions of moral superiority is no big deal.

Brad Dacus, president of the conservative legal organization Pacific Justice Institute, responded to the Oakland city council’s new law by claiming it was based on the assumption that women do not research the services offered at crisis pregnancy centers before going to them, which is pretty much the victim-blaming equivalent of saying, “Don’t blame me for lying, blame yourself for believing me.”

He told the Huffington Post, “My fear is that abortion clinics like Planned Parenthood will succeed in achieving their end goal that women in crises will not receive compassionate counseling to alternatives and that more women will abort their unborn babies,” and claimed the law was just another effort by Planned Parenthood to attract more “customers.”

Typically enough for anyone in the anti-choice movement, he cast Planned Parenthood as a business with the end goal of promoting abortion, undermining how abortions constitute just 3 percent of the women’s health organization’s services.

planned parenthood abortion
CREDIT: Andrew Burton/Getty Images

In reality, Planned Parenthood offers women in need more help with their wide range of services and compassionate acceptance of women of all circumstances than any lies and manipulation from deceptive crisis pregnancy centers ever could. Said deceptive crisis pregnancy centers currently constitute a public health crisis that Alameda County Public Health Department officials claimed in a June letter to the city of Oakland they lack the resources to address. But now, stripped of the ability to take advantage of and lie to women about something so potentially life-altering, crisis pregnancy centers in Oakland will hopefully fade into oblivion.