Two Worcester crisis pregnancy centers were vandalized on Thursday, police said, the latest in a spate of incidents around the country targeting the facilities that offer pregnancy counseling but not abortion.
The attacks came the day after Attorney General Maura Healey issued a consumer advisory warning that crisis pregnancy centers often use deceptive advertising and seldom have medically licensed staff. Senator Elizabeth Warren, who cosponsored federal legislation to crack down on deceptive practices by crisis pregnancy centers, also spoke out against them in Massachusetts last week. Reproductive Equity Now, an abortion rights group, has listed the names of crisis pregnancy centers throughout New England on its website.
As a result, abortion opponents suggest that their ideological foes are fanning the flames around the issue at a dangerous time.
“I just think it’s incredibly reckless and irresponsible, some of the rhetoric directed against them,” Catholic Action League executive director C. J. Doyle said of the politicians’ statements. ”They should consider the timing of what is happening before they engage in this kind of incendiary rhetoric.”
Healey acknowledged the vandalism in Worcester, saying in a statement that “we condemn all forms of violence and destruction of property within our communities. Our office will continue to focus on ensuring that patients seeking abortion care are safe and well-informed about their options.”
Photos posted to MassLive showed the phrase “Jane’s Revenge” spray-painted on the sidewalks outside both centers. Since a draft of the Supreme Court opinion overturning abortion rights was leaked in May, shadowy groups calling themselves “Jane’s Revenge” and “Ruth Sent Us” have taken credit for scrawling messages on centers such as, “If abortions aren’t safe, neither are you.” Pregnancy centers in Wisconsin and Buffalo have been firebombed.
Catholic Vote, a conservative, nonprofit political advocacy group, has been tracking the incidents and logged more than 50 such attacks.
Abortion rights activists have tried to sow doubt about the authenticity of the attacks and noted that, historically, violence has been directed their way. Protests, prayer vigils, and sidewalk counseling have taken place at abortion clinics around the country for decades and numerous abortion providers have been assassinated.
Worcester police did not name the centers targeted, but provided addresses for Clearway Clinic and Problem Pregnancy. The first was hit at about 6:30 a.m. Thursday, and the second at about 8:40 a.m.
At the Clearway address, three glass doors and two windows were smashed, police said. At the Problem Pregnancy location, blue and yellow paint was splashed on the building and two windows.
In a statement, Clearway Clinic executive director Kelly Wilcox characterized the vandalism as a “domestic terrorist attack” and called on public officials to condemn it.
“We are deeply saddened that misunderstandings about what we do have led to pro-abortion extremists targeting our center,” Wilcox said. “However, we are committed to continuing our mission of serving women in our community.”
Wilcox said that Clearway employs board-certified doctors and nurses who provide free health care to women in central and western Massachusetts.
“Violence against our center harms the women, babies, and families that rely on us for help in times of need,” Wilcox said.
Problem Pregnancy did not respond to requests for comment.
Massachusetts Citizens for Life president Myrna Maloney Flynn said pregnancy resource centers are being targeted by a “national smear campaign” and urged those who have had good experiences at one to share them with her organization.
The Massachusetts Family Institute, which also opposes abortion, has recently rallied around crisis pregnancy centers, and this week defended one in Easthampton, where city councilors are considering an ordinance that would ban deceptive advertising.
“This violence is disturbing, but it should not be a surprise,” president Andrew Beckwith said in a statement. “Abortion itself is a horrific act of violence, and its proponents are seething with rage from their recent defeat at the Supreme Court.”
Crisis pregnancy centers have faced a torrent of criticism since the Supreme Court overturned the constitutional right to an abortion in a ruling last month. Abortion rights supporters and politicians have gone on the offensive, accusing the facilities of misleading and manipulating patients by using proximity to abortion clinics, similar names, and deceptive tactics to lure patients and dissuade them from abortions.
In the 1980s, Planned Parenthood in Worcester sued Problem Pregnancy claiming unfair and deceptive practices. The crisis pregnancy center had moved into the same building as Planned Parenthood and used advertising that mimicked the abortion clinic’s double-P logo.
Three women gave testimony saying they got as far as providing their medical histories to staff inside Problem Pregnancy before realizing their mistake. A judge sided with Planned Parenthood but the Supreme Judicial Court in 1986 overturned part of the ruling, finding that a nonprofit that provided free services could not be held liable for unfair and deceptive acts in commerce.