Every person facing an unplanned pregnancy deserves comprehensive, unbiased, and medically accurate information so they can make the decision best for themselves and their future. But right here in Virginia, fake clinics outnumber our trusted, comprehensive reproductive healthcare providers nearly 4:1– and their well-documented manipulation and disinformation tactics put patients’ health and freedom in jeopardy.
NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia (NARAL Virginia) has conducted numerous undercover investigations over the past decade into the inner-workings of these fake clinics, also known as crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs), to expose the lies and deception they frequently use to push their ideologically-driven, anti-abortion agenda.
Explore our findings below and learn how to spot fake clinics to protect yourself, your loved ones, and your community.
Fake Clinics: An Introduction
As of 2020, NARAL Virginia identified 59 fake clinics throughout the Commonwealth, compared to only 16 licensed abortion providers.
Fake clinics, also known as crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs), are not-for-profit centers that often advertise free pregnancy tests and other services to people facing unplanned pregnancies while deceptively promoting an anti-choice agenda. The most common services include: free pregnancy testing, onsite ultrasound or ultrasound referrals, counseling, and short-term financial or healthcare assistance. Some fake clinics also operate or work in connection with adoption agencies. The majority of fake clinics are run by volunteers, though a few have trained medical professionals onsite, often working as volunteers once or twice a week.
While many fake clinics claim to provide unbiased information and assistance, their fundamental goal is to dissuade people from considering their full range of reproductive healthcare options, especially abortion care. Fake clinics use a diverse set of tactics, including providing medically inaccurate and deceptive information on reproductive health, fetal development, miscarriages, sexually transmitted diseases, contraception, and abortion.
Also, some fake clinics encourage people to delay decision-making. The longer a person is delayed, the more expensive and inaccessible the procedure becomes. Many fake clinics capitalize on this limited time frame by suggesting the likelihood of miscarriage or misrepresenting the possibility of later abortion. Some fake clinics also suggest that gestational development is farther along than it actually is, making people wrongly assume that abortions will neither be as safe or as accessible.
Where are Fake Clinics in Virginia?
Fake Clinics and the Reproductive Health Protection Act
On July 1, 2020, the Reproductive Health Protection Act went into effect in Virginia, taking reproductive healthcare decisions out of the hands of politicians and putting them back where they belong: with patients and the medical professionals they trust.
Yet with access to abortion care expanding across the Commonwealth, fake clinics are more desperate than ever to find new ways to deceive and lure people through their doors.
Learn more about how Virginia’s now-repealed forced ultrasound law continues to be manipulated by fake clinics to promote their anti-abortion agenda.
A Special Note on COVID-19
COVID-19 has made safe, comprehensive reproductive healthcare even more inaccessible. Fake clinics act as an additional barrier, compounding a patient’s increased difficulty and confusion navigating their healthcare during the pandemic (see our guide for accessing reproductive healthcare during COVID-19 here).
Anti-abortion politicians in states across the country have used the pandemic as an excuse to shutter trusted abortion providers under claims that they do not provide “essential healthcare,” while allowing– and even increasing the funding for– fake clinics to operate.
Under Trump’s anti-abortion stimulus plan, fake clinics are eligible to apply for and receive small business loans but actual abortion providers are purposefully excluded . Opportunistic politicians have continued to use COVID-19 to restrict abortion access, on top of already-existing financial barriers, such as the exclusion of abortion providers from Title X family planning funds. Instead, these funds have been funneled into fake clinics. Many large and already well-funded anti-abortion networks like Heartbeat International, NIFLA, Care Net, and Save the Storks have also cited the pandemic as a reason to increase donations to keep their fake clinics open and running .
In Virginia, we found that many fake clinics were still open at the beginning of the pandemic, and about half of the fake clinics operated under different hours. Some offer telehealth services, such as video or phone appointments. Because of added restrictions on reproductive healthcare access during COVID-19, the majority of fake clinics are seeing an increase in clients during the pandemic, as stated on their website and/or social media pages. CareNet Peninsula in Newport News reports the number of contacts they have received has doubled since the start of the pandemic.
Additionally, many fake clinics are not licensed medical facilities, meaning they are not required to operate under regulations that prioritize patient safety during COVID-19. This can include choosing not to use personal protective equipment when seeing clients, taking client temperatures to screen for infection, requiring face masks for visitors, and limiting the number of people in a specific area. Without the oversight and requirements of licensed medical providers, these unlicensed fake clinics can be putting clients in additional danger during the pandemic.
Anti-abortion organizations and activists, including the Family Foundation of Virginia, praised the work of these fake clinics while calling on our Governor and Attorney General to suspend comprehensive reproductive healthcare. Here’s the truth: abortion is time-sensitive, essential healthcare. Additional restrictions on our trusted healthcare providers– all while increasing support of fake clinics– only harm those seeking care. By manipulating the COVID-19 pandemic to their benefit, anti-abortion proponents continue to expose their hypocrisy by putting politics over the health and safety of Virginians.