There's A Shocking Number Of Fake Abortion Clinics & Here's What You Can Do

by Emma McGowan
Drew Angerer/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Have you ever felt the call to go counter-protest at an abortion clinic? You know — protest the protestors? I have. I think that what abortion clinic protestors do is wrong and part of me absolutely itches to get in their faces and fight back. But, unfortunately, a lot of abortion clinics say that counter-protestors actually do more than harm than good by escalating an already volatile situation outside the clinic. So what’s a dedicated pro-choicer to do? I have the answer: Join the #ExposeFakeClinics movement and protest outside fake abortion clinics.

Did you know that there are over 4,000 fake abortion clinics — which is about five times the number of real abortion clinics — in the United States? They’re called “crisis pregnancy centers” and they spread false information about abortion, get in the way of women trying to have abortions, and shame women for getting pregnant in the first place. They even have people who dress up like doctors who pretend that they’re actual medical professionals in order to be more convincing. Across the country, these unlicensed, unregulated clinics are targeting women — and, in particular, women of color — at their most vulnerable.

At a recent protest in front of a crisis pregnancy center in Pittsburgh, Lizz Winstead, founder of the pro-choice activist and performance group Lady Parts Justice League, went head-to-head with a woman who was dressed like a nurse. Turns out, she wasn’t a medical professional at all.

“The whole thing was just crazy,” Winstead tells Bustle. “She lied right to our faces about the information they pass out at their clinic, when two of our staff had gone in and gotten information that said if you have oral sex, you’re at a very high risk of HIV. And that’s just not true.”

Sound too weird to be true? Unfortunately, it gets worse. Not only do these clinics spread false medical information and pressure women to continue their pregnancy, but some are funded by taxpayer dollars. Yup, you read that right: Your money could be going to fund these misleading, damaging clinics. While we saw 46 anti-abortion laws put in front of state legislatures within the first two weeks of 2017, California is the only state that regulates what crisis pregnancy centers can tell women. The only state! Of all 50 states! And other states — like Texas — are actually increasing funding to crisis pregnancy centers, while simultaneously defunding real women’s health centers, i.e. Planned Parenthood. This is some weird, backwards, upside-down BS.

If the idea of women being lied to and shamed while they’re trying to decide what to do about an unplanned pregnancy infuriates you, then welcome to the #ExposeFakeClinics movement. Created by the Abortion Access Hackathon and Lady Parts Justice League and supported by a long list of partner organizations, #ExposeFakeClinics is having a week of action from July 17 to July 26. The goal is to spread the word about crisis pregnancy centers and to fight back, both online and IRL. Want to get involved? Here are some ways you can help #ExposeFakeClinics.


Boost Accurate Reviews

IRL protesting isn’t for everyone — and that’s totally fine. Luckily, these days, you can fight back digitally. #ExposeFakeClinics suggests going to review sites like Yelp, Google+, and Facebook, finding accurate reviews of crisis pregnancy centers (i.e. ones that expose the truth about what they do), and boosting them. On Yelp, that means marking them “useful;” on Google+ it’s a thumbs up; and on Facebook it’s a “like.” Boosting these accurate reviews gets the word out that these are not abortion clinics, which helps women who are searching for help with an unplanned pregnancy.


Write Your Own Accurate Reviews

If there aren’t any accurate reviews of the crisis pregnancy center in your area — or wherever you’re looking — then you can make your own. But that’s not to say you should just go on the review site and write whatever! #ExposeFakeReviews has written out an entire process and script for calling these fake abortion clinics and figuring out how they present themselves. Once you’ve done that, write an honest review of your experience. Did they neglect to mention that they don’t provide abortion services? What was positive? What was negative? The goal is to counterbalance the misinformation provided by the clinic with your real experience.


Protest IRL!

Every weekend at abortion clinics across the country you’ll find people protesting. So why aren’t we fighting back with protests of our own against their fake clinics? #ExposeFakeClinics suggests finding out if there are already plans for protests against crisis pregnancy centers in your area. If there are, join them! And if there aren’t, start your own! (But please be mindful of the fact that a lot of fake clinics set up near real clinics and if that’s the case, you’re going to need to find an alternative location.)

But protesting for the first time can be scary, so #ExposeFakeClinics has sample signs you can print, chants for when you’re there, and advice on how to get the local involved. Also, remember: You don’t want to resort to the abusive tactics that anti-abortion protestors use.

“Even our protest signs are correct,” Winstead says. “We are not about yelling at a person going into a CDC. We’re taking more of a union tactic to let the community know that these places exist in their community and to fill them in on the real services they provide, so that they’re aware.”


Report Crisis Pregnancy Centers In Your Town

The #ExposeFakeClinics site has a map of crisis pregnancy centers across the country, but it doesn’t have every single one on there yet. Take a look at your town, do a little research, and if you find a fake abortion clinic that isn’t included on the map, report it. The more we know about these places — where they’re located and who they are — the easier it is to fight back.


Have An Action Party!

Activist work is hard. But you know what makes it easier? Doing it with friends. Join or arrange a feminist action party and commit to each boosting a certain number of accurate reviews, calling a target number of crisis pregnancy centers and writing reviews, or going out and protesting the fake abortion clinic in your town. Remember: Friends don’t let friends drop their commitment to the #resistance.

Abortion is a constitutionally protected right of every woman in this country, and yet that right is being hacked away at with every new anti-abortion law. In the meantime, these fake medical clinics are allowed to exist with no regulation and no rules. Fight back. It’s time to #ExposeFakeClinics.