Madeline Stocker
Stacy Missari, NARAL Pro-Choice Connecticut Foundation Board Chair (Madeline Stocker)

According to a report released by NARAL Pro-Choice Connecticut Foundation, there are at least 27 anti-abortion organizations posing as reproductive health clinics in Connecticut.

These organizations currently outnumber the state’s abortion providers 27 to 19.

The clinics, known to some as “crisis pregnancy centers” and to others as the organizations behind the ads offering free pregnancy counseling, use a consistent pattern of misinformation, deceptive advertising, and blatant lies about reproductive health, the report states.

While conducting a two-year investigation that culminated in the report, NARAL found that 95 percent of pregnancy centers in Connecticut provide information that is both inaccurate and deceptive, 70 percent did not explicitly disclose that they are not a licensed medical facility, and none offered testing or referrals for sexually transmitted infections.

The reproductive rights group also found that, more often than not, Connecticut crisis pregnancy centers would bill themselves as comprehensive reproductive health centers or medical clinics, either by locating themselves next to licensed centers and clinics, adopting names much like those of medical providers, or outfitting their employees in white lab coats or scrubs.

“The CPCs in our study have one primary goal: to block women from considering abortion care, and evidence of this limited agenda is clear,” NARAL Pro-Choice Connecticut Foundation Board Chair Stacy Missari said.

At a Monday press conference, Missari outlined some of the report’s key findings, such as that the crisis centers target women in low-income communities and communities of color who often have the least amount of access to comprehensive healthcare.

She said that the staff and volunteers employed at the centers will give these vulnerable women false information about contraceptives and magnify the dangers of abortions, as well as employ emotionally manipulative tactics in order to steer them away from terminating their pregnancy.

One staff member told an investigator, according to the report, that she should take her time when she makes a decision about an abortion saying: “‘You have all these hormones during your pregnancy that make you not think straight. When you’re pregnant, you’re like an overexcited dog’.”

During the press conference, both U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal and state Rep. Matthew Lesser, D-Middletown, endorsed the efforts of NARAL, voicing their support for the “damning report” that illuminated the “real-life consequences” the crisis centers inflict on Connecticut women and partners who visit them.

“This kind of fake advice and false advertising arguably is against the law right now, because it violates our consumer protection statutes,” Blumenthal said. “But it ought to be banned specifically through state action and state initiatives. To pose and pretend to be a medical professional is absolutely reprehensible. It’s repugnant. It’s real-life consequences have to be stopped.”

Because these organizations are not licensed family planning clinics, there is no state or federal law regulating the services or advice that they output.

According to NARAL and its allies, the lack of regulation allows the centers to fuel their anti-choice agenda unchecked.

Advocates for the crisis pregnancy centers denied these claims during an informal press gathering outside the room that NARAL used to announce their report, arguing that the report contains “a lot of hearsay.”

“This report is slanted for political gain,” Peter Wolfgang, executive director of the Family Institute of Connecticut, said. “I think the pro-abortion people are losing business. That upsets them. They want to take out the competition. There are more crisis pregnancy centers now in the state of Connecticut than there are abortion clinics. That’s the real reason for the decline we’re seeing in abortions in Connecticut and nationally — it’s these wonderful crisis pregnancy centers.”

In Connecticut, an organization does not need a license to operate an ultrasound. While pregnancy centers may operate under the supervision of a medical director, they are not legally required to employ licensed medical staff.

In accordance with the findings of the investigation, Missari said this means that the staff and volunteers employed at crisis pregnancy centers often do not demonstrate any real knowledge of healthcare procedure or accurate information on abortion, breast cancer, parenting, contraception, STIs and HIV, or infertility.

However, one woman who works at a pregnancy center in New London says that her center does not fit this characterization.

“That’s incorrect. We do provide care,” Susan Baker,  a nurse who works for Care Net of Southeastern Connecticut, said. “Every one of us who gives ultrasounds has undergone special training, and we work under the medical license of a physician who’s licensed in the state of Connecticut.”

In moving forward, members of NARAL said they are seeking legislation that will regulate the advertising practices of these pregnancy centers, as well as further ensure that the state does not directly or indirectly fund or refer women to pregnancy-counseling facilities that do not offer comprehensive reproductive care.

In alliance with Blumenthal and Lesser the group seeks to propose a truth in advertising bill during the 2016 legislative session.

The bill would look much like the one the California House passed in May, which effectively bans pregnancy centers from misleading patients. That bill still has to pass the California Senate and be signed by the governor before becoming law in that state.

“It shows the nation the hypocrisy of these crisis centers in pretending and posing to be medical professionals at a time when real medical professionals are barred from providing real medical services to women that they need and deserve,” Blumenthal said. “This is a really penetrating indictment of a nationwide practice that involves false and deceptive advertising and should lead to safe laws to protect women. State’s offer a better ground for beginning this effort, and that’s why Connecticut can be at the forefront of this effort and lead the nation.”

According to the report, the two-year investigation included 22 in-person visits, analysis of crisis pregnancy centers’ web pages, and telephone surveys.