Massachusetts Fake Clinic Deletes Deceptive Claims From Website After Legal Complaint

An anti-choice fake clinic made edits to its website after a Rewire article prompted a consumer watchdog to file a complaint with Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey.

Anti-choice protesters hold up signs outside of the Supreme Court in June 2016. Lauryn Gutierrez / Rewire

A crisis pregnancy center in Massachusetts has scrubbed misleading claims from its website after a Rewire report prompted a legal complaint accusing the anti-choice center of masquerading as an abortion clinic.

The website for Attleboro Women’s Health Center still offers appointments to “discuss the abortion methods that may be available to you,” along with detailed information about the costs and steps involved in abortion procedures. All of this still appears designed to obscure the fact that Attleboro Women’s Health Center is a fake clinic, whose purpose is to deter patients from seeking abortion care.

After Rewire exposed the fake clinic’s deceptive website, prompting a consumer watchdog to file a complaint with Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, the center made some edits.

It cut from its homepage a passage that appeared to be a near-verbatim copy of the stated mission of Four Women Health Services, an abortion clinic about half a mile away. It also deleted the phrase: “If you’re pregnant and wondering how can I get an abortion [sic], visit Attleboro Women’s Health Center,” replacing it with an invitation to visit the center, “If you think you’re pregnant.” It deleted a claim that the center “provides quality, safe, accessible reproductive healthcare.”

The fake clinic added sources for some information, although the credibility of these sources varied. The website cites NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts for abortion pricing, for example, but attributes unproven claims about the purported psychological risks of abortion to the American Pregnancy Association, which presents itself as an unbiased medical resource but acts as a funnel to anti-choice fake clinics, as Rewire has revealed.

Katie O’Connor, legal counsel with the Campaign for Accountability, noticed the edits last week after she filed the complaint against the center last month.

“I do think they changed sort of the most egregious things that they had put on their website, but I still think it’s totally inadequate,” O’Connor told Rewire in an interview.

O’Connor called for more clarity surrounding the relationship between Attleboro Women’s Health Center and Abundant Hope Pregnancy Resource Center, a self-described “Christian pro-life ministry” and affiliate of Heartbeat International, which describes itself as the world’s largest network of crisis pregnancy centers. Attleboro Women’s Health Center shares an address with Abundant Hope, and the health center’s website is registered to Darlene Howard, Abundant Hope’s executive director. In an interview with Rewire Monday, Howard said the entities are “two separate divisions” that “are under the same organization.”

Howard told Rewire that the fake clinic added the citation information to its site “because it was missing” and to avoid complaints.

Pressed by Rewire on why the fake clinic had deleted the phrase inviting patients to visit if they are “pregnant and wondering how can I get an abortion,” Howard asked if she would be able to review the Rewire article prior to publication and, when this reporter declined, said she did not want her statements included in the story. Howard said she believes all the information on the website is accurate. She declined further comment and hung up on Rewire.

The legal complaint accuses Attleboro Women’s Health Center of deceptive business practices and misleading advertising, among other violations of state law.  Attorney General Healey’s office is reviewing the complaint and has not yet taken any action.

Disclosure: This Rewire reporter worked at Four Women several years ago.