Crisis pregnancy centers clash with state over deceptive advertising

A coalition of crisis pregnancy centers is locked in a legal battle with New Jersey over a consumer alert the state issued in December warning the public that they’re run by anti-abortion advocates who masquerade as abortion providers in order to deter the procedure.

Attorney Eileen S. Den Bleyker said that while the centers are “life-affirming,” the alert was a “misinformed and unwarranted assault” based on “speculative accusations” rather than any investigation or consumer complaints. 

After Attorney General Matt Platkin issued the alert, Den Bleyker filed public records requests for documentation supporting the State of New Jersey’s claims that the centers engage in deceptive marketing, typically don’t employ licensed medical professionals or follow medical ethics rules and standards of care and may provide false or misleading information about abortion.

The office denied the records requests as “improper and overbroad” while also saying no complaints against the centers exist, according to the lawsuit Den Bleyker filed in state Superior Court in February.

She wants a judge to compel the state to produce records showing why the consumer alert was issued. A hearing in the case is set for Tuesday in Mercer County.

Den Bleyker represents seven pregnancy centers comprising the NJ Consortium of Pregnancy Centers.

Tax records show she’s also a trustee with Solutions Health and Pregnancy Center in Shrewsbury, which is described on its website as an “abortion clinic alternative.”

Anne O’Connor, an attorney and the consortium’s chief executive officer, said the alert “tarnishes pregnancy centers across the board.”

None of the centers in the consortium were investigated nor received complaints, she added. States shouldn’t issue consumer alerts without a factual basis for doing so, she said.

“If there are centers in New Jersey that are doing any of these terrible things, then we as an industry can hold them accountable or at least try to, but we have no clue where they’re getting this information from,” O’Connor said. “The fact that they’ve been avoiding providing anything makes us feel like there is no factual basis for doing this. This is really more political or agenda-driven. We feel like these centers are being targeted because they are pro-life and they are faith-based.”

Women’s health has been the center of a lot of controversy in the ongoing health care debate, and much has focused on federal funding for Planned Parenthood.

While federal funding for abortion is already illegal in most cases, many abortion-rights opponents also want to permanently block Planned Parenthood from receiving federal reimbursement for providing services like contraception.

As it turns out, many crisis pregnancy centers also rely on Medicaid as a tool for tricking low-income pregnant women to give birth, which may involve providing inaccurate diagnostic ultrasounds readings about how far along a pregnancy is.  

For pregnant women in the United States, Medicaid is less a safety net than a building block of the maternity care system.

Of the 4.3 million births in the United States each year, more than 2 million are covered by Medicaid — nearly half. The program covers not only delivery, but also prenatal and some postpartum visits, as well as infant care.

Women’s health groups like the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists note that uninsured women have higher rates of pregnancy complications, including preterm birth.

Platkin’s spokespeople didn’t respond to a request for comment.

New Jersey has 54 crisis pregnancy centers, with at least one in every county, according to New Jersey Right to Life. Most are religiously affiliated.

O’Connor said they annually serve more than 35,000 women, men, youth, and families, providing free medical services worth almost $2 million.

She declined to identify which seven centers are members of the consortium that sued the state, and the complaint doesn’t identify them.

Pregnant women should not be subjected to lies by any agency that promises to help them, especially when such deception can result in missing the opportunity to make a vital decision based on her own moral convictions, such as terminating the pregnancy or having a child.

The article combined reporting by Dana DiFilippo, New Jersey Monitor, with our own. To read the original article, click here.

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