Abortion is a right that all women have, regardless of whether they personally exercise it. Just like any medical procedure, a woman is entitled to easily accessible and accurate information about how an abortion is performed and the effects it will have on her body. Unfortunately, many states have made abortions unreasonably difficult to obtain by severely restricting who can perform abortions and where. Additionally, the pervasive stigma surrounding a basic medical procedure oftentimes influences a women’s willingness or ability to seek out information and medical assistance.
On Tuesday, the Supreme Court began hearing arguments in the case National Institute of Family and Life Advocates vs. Becerra. This case challenges the state of California’s Reproductive Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care, Transparency Act, a bill that requires both licensed and unlicensed facilities providing family planning services to disseminate certain information to clients seeking medical attention. For licensed medical facilities, they must inform clients the state of California offers public programs that can provide low-cost or free and immediate access to family-planning services, prenatal care and abortion. Non-licensed facilities are required to inform all clients that they are not a licensed medical facility. The bill does not dictate how the information must be distributed nor does it require facilities to provide clients with references to clinics where abortions are performed.
Opponents of the Act argue it impedes upon the First Amendment rights of the organizations which are required to provide information which goes against their stated client goals. Furthermore, those opposed to the Act contest the state’s interest in implementing the law — to provide information to women of lower socioeconomic status, arguing there are less burdensome and intrusive ways for the state to do this. With four Supreme Court justices previously voting to uphold laws restricting women’s access to abortions and a fifth who tends to vote more conservative on the issue, the odds do not appear to be in favor of the FACT Act.
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Among the non-licensed organizations required under the FACT Act to provide information to clients about medical options are crisis pregnancy centers. As many as 4,000 of these centers can be found nationwide, and often outnumber the number of abortion clinics or Planned Parenthood locations in a state. By some estimates, there are five times as many crisis pregnancy centers in the U.S. than abortion clinics. In Minnesota, the ratio is 15 to one in favor of crisis pregnancy centers.
Crisis pregnancy centers are not in any way, shape or form established to help women in the event of an unwanted pregnancy. They are ardently anti-abortion, masquerading as seemingly professional, clinic-like centers, advertising with keywords like “abortion” and “morning-after pill” on Google to bait women to visit their websites.
Once at the center, women are given inaccurate and misleading information about abortions and their side effects. According to a study done by National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League Pro-Choice America, following a year of investigation done in crisis pregnancy centers in the state of Virginia, 67 percent of the centers had provided their clients with either entirely false or misleading medical information. This information ranges anywhere from blatantly untrue warnings that all condoms have holes in them to more refined warnings about fake long-term symptoms resulting from having an abortion, such as increased risk of breast cancer later in life. The medical community does not corroborate nor condone these claims, however, reiterating there has yet to be any cause and effect relationship between abortion and breast cancer in women.
Crisis pregnancy centers often target low-income women, and are most often located in poorer neighborhoods or neighborhoods with large minority populations. According to NARAL, certain centers have taken out advertisements in bus stations in the aforementioned neighborhoods or on Black Entertainment Television in blatant attempts to attract a certain, oftentimes more economically disadvantaged clientele to exploit. What the FACT Act is trying to prevent is just this: The exploitation of an already vulnerable sector of women in America who, in seeking medical counsel and advice, are instead entrapped in a web of deceit spun by organizations with an anti-abortion and anti-feminist agenda.
The First Amendment protects Americans from a slew of potential infringements on freedom of speech, but protecting someone’s freedom of speech should not come at the expense of a woman’s ability to access vital information about what is happening to her own body, nor should it impede her ability to access services that allow her to get a basic medical procedure. Crisis pregnancy centers are an astonishing example of organizations riding on the coattails of conservative politicians and justices who already have personal vendettas against female bodily autonomy and capitalizing on these vendettas by coercing their client-base to avoid “murdering their unborn babies” through fear tactics, sob stories and inaccurate, one-sided bundles of information.
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Abortion is a medical procedure, not much different than getting your wisdom teeth or tonsils out. It is one of the safest surgical procedures for women in the U.S., with fewer than 0.05 percent of all women experiencing complications. Regardless of the safety or necessity of this procedure, the fact remains that women retain the right to make informed medical decisions regarding their own bodies. This means that yes, if a woman is not ready to be pregnant, she should have every right to get an abortion. But this also means that women of all races and all socioeconomic backgrounds deserve the right to be given accurate medical information by real medical professionals, not by a crisis pregnancy center employee who believes their personal values need to be projected onto each woman seeking advice.
The Reproductive FACT Act will likely be struck down by the Supreme Court, an unfortunate but accurate representation of the political attitude in the U.S. towards women’s reproductive rights. Until crisis pregnancy centers are legally and federally required to provide their clients with factual medical information and alternatives to their biased, pro-life and anti-women agenda, women, especially women of color and lower socioeconomic status, will continue to be subjected to traumatic experiences that strip them of their ability to make decisions about their own bodies.
Aly Niehans ([email protected]) is a sophomore majoring in political science and intending to major in journalism.