The Massachusetts Legislature is trying, once again, to create a state-funded public education campaign about crisis pregnancy centers, antiabortion facilities accused of posing as reproductive health care clinics. Former governor Charlie Baker vetoed an identical proposal last November.
As part of a $353 million supplemental spending measure, the House on Wednesday approved $1 million toward an effort to inform the public and health care providers that crisis pregnancy centers do not offer comprehensive medical care. The bill now moves to the Senate for a vote and, if passed, will head to the governor for signature.
After both chambers approved the measure last year, Baker surprised reproductive rights advocates with his veto, arguing that the necessary information is “already publicly available from the state.” The measure is expected to pass the Senate again and garner more support from Governor Maura Healey, who as attorney general issued a consumer advisory last summer warning that the centers aim to prevent people from getting abortions and using contraception.
“In Massachusetts, you have the right to a safe and legal abortion. We want to ensure that patients can protect themselves from deceptive and coercive tactics when seeking the care they need,” wrote Healey in a statement last July.
The consumer advisory stressed that most crisis pregnancy centers are not medically licensed facilities and are typically not staffed by licensed physicians. It also warned that centers may mislead patients about how far they are in their pregnancy and delay scheduling appointments to push people beyond the point at which they can obtain abortions.
State Representative Aaron Michlewitz, chair of the House Ways and Means Committee that proposed the budget addition, said the appropriation passed with bipartisan support and no objections from any member. He also does not anticipate any challenges in the Senate or from Healey given that ”there is pretty strong support across the board.”
State Senator Cindy Friedman, who sponsored legislation to expand protections for reproductive rights last summer, said she has “every confidence” the Senate will pass the measure again.
Crisis pregnancy centers have also drawn criticism from Senator Elizabeth Warren, who has pledged to fight against their “harmful practices” in Congress, and Attorney General Andrea Campbell, who has vowed to “expose Crisis Pregnancy Centers that intentionally provide medically inaccurate and dangerous information to those experiencing pregnancy” and create a cross-bureau reproductive justice unit to develop new ways to hold such centers accountable.
This criticism has been met with scorn from local crisis pregnancy centers and antiabortion organizers, who say they’re under attack from legislators and abortion rights groups.
Crisis pregnancy centers in the state have been targeted since the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision last summer, said Teresa Larkin, a spokesperson for the Pregnancy Care Alliance, a coalition of nonprofit, antiabortion organizations.
“The proposed amendment to tell the public about the ‘dangers’ of crisis pregnancy centers appears to be the same taxpayer-funded smear campaign legislators introduced last year and that Governor Baker ultimately vetoed,” Larkin said. “He did so because even he – a self-described supporter of abortion rights – recognized that women would suffer without pregnancy resource centers (PRCs) to provide real choice, serving them when they’re most in need.”
She added that the organization plans to gather video testimonials from women across the state opposing the measure, and she hopes the Legislature will reconsider a move that will “only hurt women.”
Reproductive health organizers, however, are thrilled at the move to fund a public health education campaign they say is more important now in a post-Roe world than ever before.
“We are so proud that the Massachusetts House has included an investment in a public education campaign on the dangers of antiabortion centers in its supplemental budget,” said Rebecca Hart Holder, president of Reproductive Equity Now, a Boston-based nonprofit working to expand equitable access to reproductive care, in a statement. “So-called crisis pregnancy centers are the foot soldiers of the antiabortion movement. They pose a serious threat to people seeking unbiased, compassionate care when facing an unintended pregnancy.”
Her organization, she said, has been very vocal about the need for this campaign to help women make informed decisions about their reproductive health.