California Atty. Gen. Rob Bonta is suing controversial clinics known as crisis pregnancy centers for alleged false advertisement of “abortion pill reversal,” a procedure considered experimental and opposed by top medical organizations.
The lawsuit, filed Thursday, is the latest attempt by state Democratic leaders to rein in faith-based antiabortion clinics that have so far evaded legislative attempts at stricter regulation despite health warnings about the procedure.
Bonta called the centers “predatory,” alleging they “took advantage” of vulnerable pregnant patients by making false promises. He is asking a judge to block “further dissemination of the misleading claims,” citing violation of California’s false advertising and unfair competition laws.
“Those who are struggling with the complex decision to get an abortion deserve support and trustworthy guidance — not lies and misinformation,” said Bonta, who held a news conference in Oakland on Thursday.
The so-called reversal, touted by pregnancy centers across the state and nation, involves ingesting the hormone progesterone after a patient has taken a dose of abortion-inducing pills. The practice has been deemed “unethical” and “not supported by science” by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
In 2019, UC Davis researchers halted a study of the practice after three out of 12 women participating in the medical experiment were sent to the hospital for “very significant bleeding.”
The lawsuit, filed in Alameda County Superior Court on Thursday, names the antiabortion organization Heartbeat International and RealOptions Obria Medical Clinics, a Bay Area chain, as defendants, alleging they have violated state law by falsely advertising the procedure as safe and effective.
The religious crisis pregnancy center industry has long been accused of misleading women about their services in order to steer them away from abortion. Some of the California centers advertise “pre-abortion screenings” but do not provide abortions, and promote misinformation about the procedure that has been refuted by the American Cancer Society and other leading medical organizations.
But supporters of the centers say they are an asset to communities, pointing to resources offered to parents in need, such as diapers and car seats and some health screenings. Some of the state’s clinics have denied claims that they pressure patients out of having an abortion or are intentionally misleading them, and say they have a right to oppose the procedure just as others do to support it.
Even in liberal California, home to the nation’s strongest abortion access protections, past legislative attempts to more strictly regulate crisis pregnancy centers have failed, in part because of legal arguments regarding constitutionally protected freedom of speech and religion.
Clinics across the state that advertise “abortion pill reversal” are licensed by the California Department of Public Health to operate. The RealOptions centers named in Thursday’s lawsuit are state-licensed community clinics.
In 2018, the Supreme Court blocked enforcement of a California law that would have required clinics to notify patients that the state offers subsidized abortions, birth control and prenatal care.
Known as the Reproductive Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care and Transparency Act, the bill was sponsored by Vice President Kamala Harris, then state attorney general.
The court’s opinion was led by conservative Justice Clarence Thomas, who said that the law unfairly targeted faith-based centers by forcing them to provide a “government drafted script” about services they oppose.
Earlier this year, legislation aiming to limit crisis pregnancy centers quietly stalled in the state Legislature. Opponents of the bill, including the California Catholic Conference, said the proposals were prejudiced, in favor of one reproductive health choice over another.
There are at least 165 crisis pregnancy centers in California, and they outnumber abortion clinics, according to a report issued last year by the Alliance, a women’s advocacy collaborative.
The report said that many centers in the state make “deceptive and misleading” claims, do not have a physician on staff and offer nondiagnostic ultrasounds that are not recognized as a medical service but as a “keepsake” or souvenir.
Colorado became the first state in the nation to approve a law banning abortion pill reversal earlier this year, butenforcement is on hold amid a pending lawsuit.
Source: LA Times