In our investigations, we found:
- 90% of fake clinics in Virginia strategically locate themselves within five miles of out-patient OBGYN offices, medical complexes, and hospitals to look more legitimate. 75% are within three miles.
- 77% of fake clinics NARAL Virginia investigators visited did not have licensed medical personnel at the center during their appointment.
These are logos of both fake clinics and licensed abortion providers in Virginia. Can you tell who is a trusted medical facility, and who is an imposter?
Fake clinics use sophisticated marketing and branding campaigns to mirror what comprehensive reproductive healthcare providers look like as closely as possible. When a potential client lands on a fake clinic’s website, it can be difficult to discern whether they are a legitimate facility or not: their page structures often mirror those of abortion clinics, with tabs that include “Our Services,” “Make an Appointment” and “Who we Are”. Some offer live chat boxes and 24/7 phone lines.
Deceptive Search Results
Not only are fake clinic names designed to sound like abortion care providers, they often start with letters at the beginning of the alphabet which allows them to rise to the top of online search engines that use alphabetical order to organize results. Out of 59 of Virginia’s fake clinics, 29 start with one of the first three letters of the alphabet.
In a victory for protecting users, Google updated their advertising policy for ads using keywords related to abortion care in 2019. Google now certifies that an advertiser either does or does not provide abortion care, providing an automatically generated disclosure for any advertiser appearing in the search results .
But in other search platforms, fake clinics still show up in searches for abortion care. Sometimes, they are even listed higher than actual abortion providers. In July 2020, NARAL Virginia found fake clinics listed in two separate search results for abortion on the popular search engine Yelp. Note how Thrive, a fake clinic, even appears before actual abortion providers:
– Fake Clinic Metro Women’s Care in Yelp search result for “abortion” in “Fairfax, Va.”
– Fake Clinic Thrive listed ahead of two abortion providers in Yelp search result for “abortion” in “Charlottesville, Va.”
Fake clinics purposefully locate themselves near actual abortion providers to confuse patients. This is especially true of mobile fake clinic units, which will park on the same street– directly in front of or next to– the actual abortion provider. In August 2020, we captured a photograph of a Hope 4 Life mobile unit parked outside of A Tidewater Women’s & LGBT Primary Care in Norfolk.
Other fake clinics set up permanent locations near abortion clinics. For example, the Pregnancy Center of Metro Richmond, a fake clinic, is located a short five-minute drive from the city’s Planned Parenthood. Blue Ridge Women’s Center, another fake clinic, is under 10 minutes from Roanoke’s Planned Parenthood.
Fake clinics in Virginia are purposely located near outpatient medical complexes and hospitals, too, in attempts to project legitimacy. NARAL Virginia also found that out of 59 fake clinics, 41 are located under three miles of an out-patient OBGYN office.
One fake clinic, Birthright of Norfolk, is even located on the first floor of a Catholic hospital– Bon Secours DePaul Medical Center. Many others are located right around the corner from their community’s hospital:
Investigator: “When we parked outside Mosaic, it was an office inside a strip of four or five out-patient and doctor’s offices. Across the street, we could see the [INOVA Loudoun] hospital. I think it would be easy for someone to believe it’s part of these facilities or somehow connected to the hospital.”
– NARAL Virginia Investigator at Mosaic Virginia in Lansdowne, Va.
A person seeking comprehensive reproductive healthcare deserves to be treated with dignity and respect– not tricked by fake clinics into thinking they are receiving trustworthy, unbiased healthcare services.
Inside a Fake Clinic
The interior of a fake clinic is designed to mimic a real medical office, often with a waiting room, reception desk, and fake medical paperwork. NARAL Virginia found that workers at some fake clinics even dressed like medical providers, without having a single licensed nurse or doctor on-site.
Investigator: “It looked like a normal doctor’s office—nice, clean waiting room and receptionist desk. Patient forms & clipboards like a regular office. They had nice calming music on in the background.”
– NARAL Virginia Investigator at NOVA Pregnancy Center in Alexandria, Va.
Investigator: “[name redacted], the ‘medical counselor’ wore a white coat and called herself Nursing Director. They also had a medical room with an examining table… which also had numerous medical posters and medical tools like tongue depressors and stethoscopes that you would normally find in a doctor’s office. I also specifically stated that I was there because I wanted to be examined by a doctor’s office and they never once explained that they were not in fact a medical facility.”
– NARAL Virginia Investigator at Mosaic Virginia in Landsdowne, VA.
Deceptive Pregnancy Testing
One of the most successful tactics fake clinics use to lure people in is by offering free pregnancy testing. Many of the fake clinics we spoke to on the phone erroneously claimed their tests were more accurate than those you commonly purchase at the drugstore. Some fake clinics say that it’s because of how they store their pregnancy tests, but the truth is this: in our research, NARAL Virginia could not identify any fake clinics that provide blood pregnancy tests– the most accurate way to confirm a pregnancy.
Fake Clinic: “These [urine tests] are definitely professional, accurate tests.”
– Staff at Hope in Northern Virginia in Falls Church, Va.
Investigator:“[Your website] says you guys do pregnancy tests. Is that different– I took a urine pregnancy test, would yours be any different?”
Fake Clinic: “It is the same test. It’s a urine test.”
– Phone call between NARAL Virginia investigator and staff of AbbaCare in Winchester, Va.
Fake Clinic: “It’s not a blood test, it’s just the urine test but we can do that on site and it’s at no cost to you whatsoever.”
– Staff at the MaRiH Center in Alexandria, Va.
Among the fake clinics our investigators visited, all provided a urine test, which, upon our research, is as accurate as the type that can be purchased at a local drugstore. In fact, some fake clinics NARAL Virginia visited use urine tests specifically manufactured by anti-abortion facilities, such as Quick & Clear II, used at NOVA Pregnancy Center in Alexandria:
We even caught one fake clinic backtracking about their pregnancy tests:
Fake Clinic: “Like I said we do offer the home… I’m sorry… the laboratory quality pregnancy test here…”
– Staff at the Kiem Center in Chesapeake, Va.
Lack of Medical Services
While some fake clinics may have doctors or nurses who volunteer once or twice a week, the majority of fake clinics do not have licensed medical providers on staff. Many fake clinics are not recognized medical facilities, so they cannot provide the comprehensive, high-quality, and safe healthcare your trusted provider can.
Some fake clinics try to trick clients into thinking they are a medical facility, even referring to themselves as a medical provider when talking to potential clients. But fake clinics, by and large, aren’t medical facilities. Those that are not medical facilities are not required to adhere to medical standards or privacy laws like HIPPA, and they do not provide comprehensive reproductive healthcare.
Investigator: “I asked about how [the abortion pill] works but my counselor admitted to having ‘no medical knowledge’ of the procedure.”
– NARAL Virginia Investigator at Hope in Northern Virginia in Falls Church, Va.
Many fake clinics do not have staff qualified to provide medical opinions and consultations, all while giving the appearance that they are in fact medical providers — when they are not. Fake clinics’ intentional misinformation about abortion procedures and risks and their lack of medical expertise harms pregnant people seeking information and access to care.