In our investigations, we found:
- 76% of fake clinics are located within 10 miles of a college or high school campus.
- 50% of fake clinics are located in communities of color.
Fake clinics have many strategies for targeting traditionally marginalized and vulnerable communities, including people of color, low-income people, rural people, young people, and people who speak English as a second language or not at all. These strategies can include intentionally locating their buildings in marginalized communities and/or close to schools and universities where there are few, if any, options for comprehensive reproductive healthcare. They may also appropriate specific racial language and manipulating social justice movements to target people of color, offer free services, promise financial aid, and/or baby items to new parents, offer translation services, and more.
Comfort Care Women’s Health, which operates three fake clinics in Staunton, Lexington, and Waynesboro, reported that in 2019 the majority of clients they saw were lower-income, and over a quarter of their clients were between 20-24 years old:
Targeting Young People & Students
“Women attending college are the most vulnerable to the deceptive lure of abortion, so we realize that a pro-life presence on college campuses is vital. Sharing the truth will allow us to witness many lives saved.”
– A Best Choice Mobile Ultrasound & Pregnancy Resource Center in Northern Va.
Despite offering free services, fake clinics will often target students by posting “discount coupons” on posters throughout campus or in ‘coupon books’ from local businesses distributed during the first week of classes, leading students to believe they’re taking advantage of a financial incentive by choosing to visit the fake clinic over another legitimate medical provider. These photos were captured by students on campus at the University of Virginia and Virginia Tech, respectively, during the fall 2019 and spring 2020 semesters:
Some fake clinics will even try to create a physical presence on a college campus, especially those with mobile units. ABC Women’s Health & Ultrasound Center makes stops at universities across Northern Virginia, including George Mason University (Fairfax), the University of Mary Washington (Fredericksburg), and Northern Virginia Community College (Springfield) . Others establish permanent locations a short drive away or within walking distance from a university campus. Of the 59 fake clinics identified by NARAL Virginia, 45 are located within 10 miles of a community college, four-year university, or high school.
At both the University of Mary Washington and Virginia Tech, students report that the local fake clinic participates in student activity and orientation fairs. In fall 2018, Valley Women’s Clinic tabled at Virginia Tech’s Welcome Week Fair and offered students free promotional koozies.
Fake clinics close to a university campus are known to collaborate closely with anti-abortion student organizations, such as Students for Life, to sponsor on-campus events for students. In October 2019, Thrive hosted an event for students at the local Christian Study Center called “Abortion & Race: a Personal Story.”
“[The speaker] said that ‘this generation has been brainwashed’ into thinking abortions are normal and no big deal. He said the gospel is a way to ‘save women from the trauma of having abortions,’ and that NARAL and Planned Parenthood are businesses with an agenda just out to make money.”
– UVA Student and NARAL Virginia Student Advocacy Fellow who attended the event
Targeting Low-Income People
In Virginia, pregnant people are eligible for Medicaid, which will provide insurance coverage for prenatal and post-partum care, if their income is 143% below the federal poverty line . To request coverage in Virginia, the pregnant person must submit a medical confirmation of pregnancy in their application, such as an ultrasound or blood test . Without existing insurance coverage, low-income Virginians are especially susceptible to seeking out a fake clinic that offers ultrasounds because, compared to a comprehensive medical provider, a fake clinic’s limited medical services are free and they often offer walk-ins or same-day appointments.
Many people decide to have an abortion because of economic barriers. In 2004, a study by the Guttmacher Institute found that the second-most cited reason– 74% of those surveyed– for deciding to terminate a pregnancy was an inability to financially afford a child . To persuade people to carry their pregnancy to term, many fake clinics will promise financial assistance or offer baby items. These items, such as baby clothes, diapers, and bottles, often come with strings attached: classes or programs the person must attend in order to receive them, often with religious overtones.
Fake Clinic: “And then when you come to the classes, you would earn what we call ‘Blessing Bucks’ where you’re able to shop for all your baby item needs in our boutique with those Blessing Bucks.”
– Staff at Bedford Pregnancy Center in Bedford, Va.
Fake Clinic: “We also have a Building Blocks program that helps to prepare our moms for being a parent. Um, pregnancy, childbirth, etcetera and do some reading and so on, and classes and so on, one can earn building blocks so that you could use those for diapers or clothing or you know, whatever you would feel you would need for your baby.”
– Staff at The Pregnancy Center of Central Virginia in Charlottesville, Va.
Investigator: “I don’t have the resources to have a baby.”
Fake Clinic: “To some degree, money-wise, um, it depends. We do have some funds around to help people financially to some degree… we can provide stuff for you and the baby… And we provide as much as we can to help people because life is precious.”
– Phone call between NARAL Virginia Investigator and Staff at the MaRiH Center in Alexandria, Va.
Investigator: “They said they would cover my medical expenses until I got health insurance. [I] was made to feel that a lack of money wasn’t a legitimate reason not to go through with the pregnancy.”