DPH warns crisis pregnancy centers against deceptive practices

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Nearly 30 crisis pregnancy centers operate across Massachusetts, DPH says.

A sandwich board advertises free pregnancy testing and ultrasounds for Your Options Medical, a pregnancy crisis center. Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

The state’s Department of Public Health is reminding physicians and other medical professionals to operate with transparency after an influx of complaints about anti-abortion centers.

The state said the complaints also spurred a review of whether its licensees, including anti-abortion centers, “are adhering to their designated scope of practice and operating transparently and free from deceptive practices.”

There are nearly 30 anti-abortion centers, also called crisis pregnancy centers, in the state, according to DPH. Four of them are licensed by the state as healthcare facilities, which allows them to offer medical care and requires them to adhere to certain requirements and standards.

Licensed clinics usually have at least one healthcare professional on staff, the department said. Clinics that are not licensed cannot legally provide medical services and are typically staffed by non-medical workers or volunteers. Many are affiliated with religious institutions or advocacy groups that “provide funding and support to advance an anti-abortion agenda,” DPH said.

The licensed crisis pregnancy centers often provide services like ultrasounds and pregnancy testing, but opt to not provide other reproductive care services including abortions, abortion referrals, or contraception, despite depicting themselves as fully equipped pregnancy care facilities, the state said.

The memo sent last week from DPH to all licensed healthcare professionals warned against practicing “in violation of good and accepted health care practice.” 

They used the example of a clinic promoting a “medication abortion reversal,” the practice of prescribing progesterone to stop a medication abortion that is already underway. The department cited the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologist as saying the practice is “unproven, unethical, and unsafe.” The reversal method is not supported by science, the group says.

Clearway Clinic, an anti-abortion center with locations in Worcester and Springfield, is licensed according to the state as of Nov. 2023. They provide testing, ultrasounds, pre-abortion care (not abortion referrals), and after-abortion care, all “in Jesus Christ’s name,” according to a document related to their tax exempt status.

The religiously affiliated center says it provides medication abortion reversal, or abortion pill reversal.

Reproductive Equity Now, a pro-abortion rights nonprofit, lists more than 30 anti-abortion centers in Massachusetts on their website, including licensed centers like Clearway and unlicensed centers like Pregnancy Help. With centers in Brighton, Brockton, and Natick, Pregnancy Help gives ultrasounds and tests not “under the direction and supervision of a licensed physician.”

DPH said some of these centers are misleading about their services; Reproductive Equity Now lists other some center’s other “deceptive practices.”

“They are often deliberately located near reproductive health clinics, they create websites that appear in online searches for legitimate abortion clinics, and they advertise online and in print media in ways that might appeal to those who are considering abortion,” their website said.

Non-compliant centers could face prosecution

While the unlicensed centers are not within DPH’s purview, the department may investigate some complaints with the Attorney General’s Reproductive Justice Unit, launched in 2023.

Any of the pregnancy crisis centers could face prosecution from the AG, the memo said, for performing unlicensed medical services or deceptive practices. Those clinics with licenses, but without proper staffing, could face license suspension or revocation for both the clinics and the professionals working there.

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