BOSTON, MA – As the country's abortion landscape has dramatically shifted in the wake of the Supreme Court Dobbs case opinion leak in May and ruling in June, crisis pregnancy centers in Massachusetts have come under enormous pressure. Not only have vandals destroyed their property and threatened their ongoing safety, but state and local officials have largely ignored these attacks while accusing them of deceptive practices.
In July in Worcester, violent extremists affiliated with the pro-abortion network Jane's Revenge, spray painted "Jane's Revenge" on the sidewalk in front of Clearway Clinic and smashed the windows. An hour away in Revere, vandals spray-painted "if abortion's not safe neither are you," on the brick wall of the clinic Your Options Medical.
Kelly Wilcox, the executive director of Clearway Clinic, remembers that police met them outside the building the morning after the assault. She says the vandals' intent was clear. "They're trying to put us out of business by attacking us."
Teresa Larkin, the executive director of Your Options Medical, says that after twenty years of serving in the community, the crime shocked both her and her staff. "We were concerned because that's a direct threat," she said.
Although the FBI is investigating the cases, public officials have not come forward to support the clinics or condemn their attackers. No arrests have been announced. Instead, local and state authorities have questioned whether or not the state's crisis pregnancy centers engage in deceptive practices.
In Worcester and other communities, city officials are considering measures to penalize pregnancy centers for potential misleading communication or practices.
Right before the vandalism in July, Massachusetts Attorney Gen. Maura Healey threatened the centers with a consumer advisory, warning the public that it should watch out. "We want to ensure that patients can protect themselves from deceptive and coercive tactics," said Healey. Specifically, Healey warned, "most pregnancy centers are not licensed medical facilities," that "some crisis pregnancy centers offer ultrasounds performed by unlicensed personnel," and that they "often provide inaccurate and misleading information about abortion."
Anne O'Connor, the vice president of legal affairs for NIFLA, a national organization of crisis pregnancy centers, disputes Healey's claims and notes that of NIFLA's 1,600 members 1,400 are medical facilities.
"We're not deceptively advertising. I'm not aware of any prosecution against any pregnancy center in any of those locales," she said.
Mark Rienzi, the president of Becket, a Washington, D.C.-based religious liberty law firm, says government officials must be careful not to single out political enemies and set them up for special punishment. "The First Amendment is designed to stop governments from picking just one side of the debate, declaring it to be true and punishing the other side," he said.
In the 2018 NIFLA v. Becerra Supreme Court decision, the justices ruled that requiring California pregnancy centers to post-abortion notices violated First Amendment principles around compelled speech. Rienzi says that ruling and others give faith-based pregnancy centers firm legal footing going forward.
"I expect that if the pregnancy centers need to fight that they'll eventually win because they're engaging in peaceful, free speech, just with a viewpoint that the local government doesn't like," he said.
This week, a coalition of state crisis pregnancy centers working with the Massachusetts Family Institute and First Liberty Institute asked Healey to withdraw the advisory and called on her to provide leadership in the investigations.
"It is outrageous that the Attorney General would target pregnancy centers that offer essential medical services," said Jeremy Dys, senior counsel for First Liberty. "Gen. Healey has a legal obligation to protect all reproductive health facilities, not just the ones she politically favors."
Andrew Beckwith, the president of the Massachusetts Family Institute, said Healey's action should offend everyone. "The Attorney General's singling out of pregnancy resource centers exhibits a hostility toward faith-based pregnancy centers," he said.
Larkin and Wilcox say their mission is to educate women about all their choices, using peer-reviewed, scientific facts.
"Having to make a choice without all the information is not pro-woman," said Larkin.
"They have to have good information to make a good decision," said Wilcox.
Both clinics offer free medical pregnancy tests, ultrasounds performed by a licensed sonographer, and counseling for women. They also provide a variety of baby supplies like blankets and clothing.
NIFLA says that pregnancy centers across the country give away $280 million dollars of free support services every year.
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