An online search for abortion services in the Boston area lists several local medical clinics and organizations like Planned Parenthood. Search results may also include what are referred to as “crisis pregnancy centers.”
“We just want people to understand that these centers advertise themselves as providing a full spectrum of pregnancy related services but then in fact they exclude abortion and they try to convince the person not to have an abortion,” Cambridge City Councilor Quinton Zondervan said.
Zondervan is a sponsor of a proposed ordinance that would prohibit the Cambridge city manager from issuing any permits or licenses for these types of centers that seek to prevent abortions, called “Limited Services Pregnancy Centers” in the city ordinance.
“People shouldn’t unknowingly walk into a service center that pretends to offer the full spectrum of pregnancy-related services to then be surprised and to be ambushed with a particular ideology or viewpoint,” the city councilor added.
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The proposed ordinance in Cambridge was inspired by the city of Somerville, which passed an ordinance proposed by Councilor Kristen Strezo earlier this year that imposes a fine up to $300 for engaging in false and deceptive advertising or disseminating misinformation regarding pregnancy-related services.
“As a local legislature I do see it as my responsibility to protect those rights as best as I can and this is one opportunity to adjust our local laws to provide additional protection to pregnant people so they have access to the services they need,” Zondervan said.
There are no known crisis pregnancy centers in Cambridge.
Reproductive rights advocacy group Reproductive Equity Now identified more than two dozen such centers in Massachusetts with several in the greater Boston area, including Pregnancy Help Boston in nearby Brighton. It is one of three pregnancy help centers supported through Archdiocese of Boston’s Pro Life Office.
“Most of the women who come to us are poor, many do not have strong support within the household, within families. They may be in a very difficult economic situations. They may have other children, they may just be afraid experiencing an unplanned pregnancy, and just need a place to be able to come and explore what’s in their heart and to know that there is help available if they want to continue this pregnancy,” said Marianne Luthin, Director of the Archdiocese’s Pro Life Office.
The website for the centers offers pregnancy testing, limited obstetrical ultrasound, options counseling, supportive services and referrals. It also states, “Pregnancy Help is not a medical clinic and does not provide medical services under the direction and supervision of a licensed physician. Pregnancy Help does not perform or refer for abortions.”
“It’s unfortunate that Pregnancy Help is lumped in with a generic category of so called centers doing horrible things,” said Luthin. “We are truthful, we are a ministry of the church, and we are very proud of the work that we do for women.”
Luthin said clients sometimes continue receiving support from the organization through the first year after childbirth.
“In order for her to have the full range of choices available she needs to have supportive services like we offer at Pregnancy Help so if you try to shut down all these centers you are eliminating all that help and all those resources and all those potential choices a woman has.”
During a meeting with reproductive rights advocates in Boston Wednesday afternoon, Sen. Elizabeth Warren urged action to address crisis pregnancy centers.
“Now that Massachusetts is going to be a landing spot for a lot of people in trouble that means it is important that every person who is seeking health in Massachusetts whether they already live here or live somewhere else that when they believe they are talking to someone who is an abortion provider that in fact it is an abortion provider and not some front group that is going to try to harass or otherwise intimidate or frighten this woman.”
Warren is a sponsor of the Anti-Abortion Disinformation Act, a bill that would direct the Federal Trade Commission to prohibit deceptive advertising related to abortion services.
“The idea that centers have grown up to prey on people who are pregnant and vulnerable and seeking help is fundamentally wrong," she said. "We should stop it nationwide.”
NBC10 Boston reached out to several pregnancy centers for this story. The director of an organization with four locations in the region declined an interview citing an increase in harassment.