Fake abortion clinics: the threat to reproductive self-determination

Women Health. 1990;16(1):95-113. doi: 10.1300/J013v16n01_07.


The establishment of "fake abortion clinics" poses a great threat to women's ability to make free and informed procreative decisions. Such clinics intentionally deceive pregnant women into believing that they provide a full range of women's health services when, in reality, they provide only a pregnancy test, accompanied by intense anti-abortion propaganda. Because fake abortion clinics threaten women's interests in "privacy" and decisional autonomy, state attorneys general should challenge them under deceptive business practice statutes. Successful challenges can be brought without violating anti-abortion groups' First Amendment rights.

PIP: The establishment of "fake abortion clinics" poses a dire threat to women's choice-making ability. These clinics purposely deceive women into thinking that they are providing a range of women's health services. All they provide is a pregnancy test and much anti-abortion propaganda. Women who go to these centers may feel much psychological stress. There are over 1000 of these clinics in the US. Only a few have been challenged by private parties or attorneys general. States' attorneys general should take more action under unfair business practice laws. This can be done without violating the 1st amendment's free speech protection. Fake abortion clinics fall under the "intentionally false and deceitful" speech category. This is beyond the 1st amendment's scope. The deceptive activities take place inside and outside the center. Their advertising is misleading. They make pregnant women see an anti-abortion movie before they get the results of their pregnancy tests. 2 "privacy" issues are at stake here. The 1st is that the content and risks are never disclosed. The 2nd is that the abortion decision should be independently made. The few cases that have been challenged under state deceptive business laws have been successful. The 1st amendment protects commercial speech from unwarranted government regulation. The State Court has not said what a definition of commercial speech is. The Court takes into consideration the format and content of the speech. Fake abortion clinic advertising is commercial. Even if their ads were found to be noncommercial speech, they could still be banned without being contrary to the 1st amendment. Fake abortion clinics' ads do not get any 1st amendment protection because they are "misleading and deceptive." Advertising may be brought under control of law if: 1) the government's interest in this is great; 2) the laws directly advance the government's asserted interest; and 3) the restrictions are no more extensive than they have to be. The government might want to regulate speech in fake abortion clinics because it wants to prevent deceptive business rules. It might want to prevent women from getting into a situation where they are coerced. Enforcing deceptive business practice laws against anti-abortion clinics would directly advance the interests of the states and allow for free decision making on reproductive choices.

MeSH terms

  • Abortion, Legal*
  • Advertising
  • Ambulatory Care Facilities / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Civil Rights / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Counseling
  • Crime / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Female
  • Fraud / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Humans
  • Pregnancy
  • Propaganda*
  • United States
  • Women's Rights / legislation & jurisprudence