Watchdog: Massachusetts Fake Clinic Illegally Deceives Abortion Patients

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Watchdog: Massachusetts Fake Clinic Illegally Deceives Abortion Patients

Amy Littlefield

“The Center appears to be advertising abortion services that it intends not to offer in apparent violation of the law."

A consumer watchdog group has filed a complaint with Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey accusing an Attleboro crisis pregnancy center, or fake clinic, of breaking state law by masquerading as an abortion clinic.

The Campaign for Accountability sent the complaint Thursday after Rewire revealed how the website for Attleboro Women’s Health Center offers detailed information about abortion procedures, cost estimates, and appointments “to discuss the abortion methods that may be available to you.”

That offer “seems incompatible” with the fact that the center does not provide or even refer for abortion care–a reality it concedes at the bottom of the website’s “About” page, the complaint notes.

“The Center appears to be advertising abortion services that it intends not to offer in apparent violation of the law,” Katie O’Connor, legal counsel with the Campaign for Accountability, wrote in the complaint.

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O’Connor’s complaint accuses the fake clinic of deceptive business practices and misleading advertising. In addition to “deliberately trying to confuse and deceive” abortion patients, the website has inaccuracies about the purported psychological risks of abortion care and the unproven claim that a medication abortion can be reversed, O’Connor notes.

The center is located about half a mile from Four Women Health Services, an abortion clinic whose mission statement Attleboro Women’s Health Center appears to have copied nearly verbatim on its website.

The complaint also alleges the fake clinic is making unauthorized use of a corporate name. That’s because Attleboro Women’s Health Center shares an address and business hours with Abundant Hope Pregnancy Resource Center, a self-described “Christian pro-life ministry.”

“We are under that umbrella,” a representative at the health center told Rewire, when asked if the health center is the same organization as Abundant Hope.

The health center’s website is registered to Darlene Howard, executive director of Abundant Hope, an affiliate of Heartbeat International, which describes itself as the world’s largest network of crisis pregnancy centers, and instructs these anti-choice clinics to conceal their intentions by scrapping religious language, for example.

“Abundant Hope appears to be operating as Attleboro Women’s Health Center, yet does not appear to have filed an amendment to its articles of incorporation in apparent violation of Massachusetts law,” O’Connor wrote in her complaint.

Howard was unavailable for comment on the complaint.

Attempts to regulate crisis pregnancy centers at the state, county, and city levels have faced legal challenges. But Attorney General Healey has taken steps to protect abortion access, reaching a settlement agreement this year to prohibit a Boston-based firm hired by anti-choice groups from targeting “abortion-minded women” in Massachusetts with digital propaganda while they visit abortion clinics. The settlement also followed a Rewire investigation.

“Massachusetts has really robust consumer protection laws and obviously an attorney general who’s willing to enforce those laws,” O’Connor told Rewire. “We’re hopeful in this pretty egregious case that she would decide to investigate.”

A spokesperson for Healey confirmed the office has received the complaint about Attleboro Women’s Health Center and will review it. The violations detailed in the complaint can carry fines or even imprisonment, but O’Connor said her hope is that Healey’s office stops the fake clinic from deceiving people.

“I think what I would most like to see is the Attleboro Women’s Health Center having a website that more accurately describes what it actually does,” O’Connor said.

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