‘Crisis Pregnancy Centers’ Scare and Deceive Women

This Crisis Pregnancy Center in the Bronx uses an eye-catching sign to capture the attention of women seeking advice about pregnancy and abortion. (Photo provided to El Diario)

The yellow sign with red letters is so big and is located in such a strategic place that there is no way passersby will not notice it.

It is a sign that reads: “Unplanned Pregnancy?” and “Plan your parenthood!” posted outside the EMC Pregnancy Center, an anti-abortion center in the South Bronx dedicated to attracting pregnant women seeking advice regarding whether to get an abortion or not.

However, more than guidance, the women who enter the location – many of whom are desperate due to an unwanted pregnancy – end up receiving misleading medical information that, in addition to causing great fear and confusion, may put their lives at risk.

Several complaints received by the New York City Council, the Department of Consumer Affairs and organizations advocating for women’s reproductive rights have revealed that that these “crisis pregnancy centers” (CPC) – also known as “Pregnancy Services Centers” – are using deceitful tactics and spreading confusing information to prevent New Yorkers from exercising their completely legal reproductive right to obtain an abortion or use contraceptive methods such as the “morning-after pill.”

After investigating these claims and carrying out a number of inspections, the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) imposed a $1,500 fine against Expectant Mother Care Frontline – the organization that operates the EMC Pregnancy Center in the Bronx and another dozen locations across the city – for violating Local Law 17, which aims to protect New York women seeking services at these crisis pregnancy centers.

Local Law 17

Specifically, Local Law 17, approved in 2011 by then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg and which took effect in earnest in 2016, stipulates that all CPCs must post a clear and conspicuous notice at the entrance of their establishments and online stating in English and Spanish whether or not they have “a licensed medical provider is present to directly provide or directly supervise the provision of all services” offered at such pregnancy services center. The law also requires that the notification is provided to consumers orally by CPC staff (“status disclosure”). Failure to comply with these rules may lead to a fine of up to $2,500.

These types of irregularities and many others were unveiled during a hearing held by the New York City Council Committee on Consumer Affairs on Nov. 15, 2017, during which the DCA stated that it received more than 23 complaints from consumers who sought services at nine of these CPCs in the city.

“The case of this Bronx center – which does not have posters stating that it is not a licensed medical facility – was what drove us to hold this hearing. (…) Latina women are most vulnerable to these tactics because, often, no Spanish translation is available explaining the services these agencies provide for patients,” said Council member Rafael Espinal, chair of the council’s Committee on Consumer Affairs.

Espinal said that, although more than five years have passed since the law was approved, the city has not strengthened it with the purpose of closing these businesses, which are frequently sponsored by conservative groups and operate outside the law by deceiving New Yorkers.

“We held the hearing to ask the DCA why it has taken so long to strengthen the law and why there is such a minimal number of cases found last year, when there is evidence that this continues to happen throughout the city,” said the official.

Fake medical clinics

Espinal said that one of his committee’s biggest concerns is the way these centers find a way to operate disregarding the law and give the impression that they are a clinic or a medical facility.

(…)

The investigations unveiled during the Council’s hearing showed that centers such as EMC Frontline carry out sonograms, ultrasounds, pregnancy tests and have semi-private rooms where they perform physical exams using medical instruments with people wearing white lab coats even though they do not possess a license to perform these types of services.

“On many occasions, women go to these centers to have a pregnancy test and sonograms and, if these come out positive and they want to have an abortion, [the staff] tries to brainwash them to make them change their mind by telling them that an abortion is not a good alternative,” said Espinal.

The council member, who is Hispanic, said that one of the most dangerous tactics used by the CPCs is to constantly delay or reschedule the woman’s appointment to let time pass and make her lose the window of opportunity allowed by New York state law to perform an abortion, which is 24 weeks (six months).

“The way New York women are being deceived puts them in danger, because in the end they do something they did not want to do and, if the allowed time has passed, they may resort to other ways to obtain an abortion which are not safe,” said the council member.

This was confirmed by Elizabeth Adams, director of government relations of Planned Parenthood of New York City (PPNYC). (…) “It is not just that they are not offering ethical and comprehensive medical care services, but that they are confusing, stigmatizing and hurting patients,” denounced Adams.

EMC Frontline responds

El Diario was able to corroborate that the EMC Pregnancy Center located at 344 East 149th Street in The Bronx does not display a notice at its entrance as stipulated by Local Law 17. (Photo by Pedro F. Frisneda via El Diario)

El Diario spoke with Chris Slattery, president of EMC Frontline, who defended himself from the accusations against him by saying that the business he directs fully complies with Local Law 17. Therefore, he plans to appeal the fine imposed by the city.

“Last year, we began performing ultrasounds at our Bronx office under the supervision of licensed nurses. We also perform STD (sexually transmitted disease) tests, and those are the only medical services we provide,” said Slattery, who founded the organization in 1985.

“What they are trying to do with this law is force us to post ads and publicity saying that we are not a medical facility, which in our case would be false because we do offer medically-supervised services part time (…),” said Slattery.

(…)

During a visit to the EMC Pregnancy Center in the Bronx, located at 344 East 149th St., on Dec. 29, El Diario was able to confirm that the center has no notifications at its entrance letting customers know that it does not have a medical provider on the premises. We did not see any nurses or medical personnel at the facility, either.

Terror tactics

The CPCs attempt to pass as authorized health centers by posting pictures of families and pregnant women on their windows alongside signs offering free pregnancy tests and ultrasounds and assistance to get Medicaid. In addition, they have been accused of deliberately opening locations very close to well-known, certified sexual and reproductive health centers that offer the alternative of abortion, all with the intention of confusing and intercepting patients seeking services at those centers.

El Diario was able to verify that the EMC Frontline location in the Bronx is right in front of the borough’s PPNYC branch, and that their Brooklyn office is in the same building as a PPNYC center, at 44 Court St.

“We have seen women who go to EMC Frontline by mistake and realize that they are not in PPNYC and, after spending 20 minutes or an hour there, come out crying or are very upset (…),” said Felicia Morris-Bolar, center director of PPNYC in the Bronx. “They are told that they could die if they get an abortion or that they could lose a lot of blood and end up in a coma. This is done to scare them and to make them afraid of the services they are looking for.”

“Sometimes the employees (of EMC Frontline) are outside the building talking to women, holding rosaries, and they tell them that ‘if you know someone in crisis, we are here to help,’” said Morris-Bolar.

It has also been known that CPC personnel have terrorized patients by telling them that getting an abortion puts them at higher risk of developing breast cancer. This has been discredited many times by the National Cancer Institute.

Asked about whether his Bronx center is located in front of PPNYC on purpose, Slattery said: “It is not illegal in any way to open a pregnancy center close to an abortion clinic.”

About the accusations regarding the alleged dissemination of false information meant to scare women, Slattery said that his business only distributes research and medical studies in the form of newspaper articles to allow women to decide by themselves.

“Ultimately, it is the mother who makes her own decision regarding whether it is safe to have a baby or not or have an abortion.”

EMC Frontline in Brooklyn is in the same building as the PPNYC office, at 44 Court St., It also failed to show a sign clarifying that they do not have a licensed medical provider on site. (Photo by Pedro F. Frisneda via El Diario)

Virtual deceit

According to Elizabeth Adams, EMC Frontline has also made great efforts to expand its anti-abortion campaigns on social media and the internet.

“They have a website designed exclusively to attract donors that is very much anti-abortion, and another one to attract people seeking health services and care. They use deceitful terms there as well, and post pictures of people with medical equipment and wearing white lab coats that give the appearance that it is the website of a medical center. That is completely incorrect and does not reflect the services these places actually offer,” said Adams.

(…) Another CPC mentioned at the City Council’s hearing and also visited by El Diario was The Bridge to Life, located in Flushing, Queens. Fifty percent of this center’s clients are of Hispanic origin.

At the center’s office hangs a poster with two questions – “Pregnant?” and “Need help?” – offering free pregnancy tests and counseling. Although this time the advert did specify that “we are not an authorized medical facility,” the message is written in fine print and placed in a corner of the poster that it practically goes unnoticed.

“That law [Local Law 17] does not apply to us because none of the services we provide are medical, so there is no reason for us to have licensed medical staff in our facilities. We do not have medical equipment and we do not perform ultrasounds,” said Felicia William, executive director of The Bridge to Life, which also has an office in Astoria, Queens.

“All we provide is emotional support to women facing an emergency with their pregnancy through conversations in person or by phone (…) We try to eliminate the obstacles they have to choose to have a family,” said William, adding that most of the services they offer consist of in-kind assistance in the form of clothing for the women and their children, strollers and other items they may need.

A poster for The Bridge to Life, located in Flushing, Queens, states that they “are not a licensed medical facility,” but the disclaimer is written in fine print and placed at the bottom corner of the sign. (Photo by Pedro F. Frisneda via El Diario)

(…)

Council member Rafael Espinal recommended pregnant women in New York, particularly Latinas, to be careful when they enter these types of pregnancy centers.

(…)

“The most important thing is to go to clinics that are well-known and that have a license, such as Planned Parenthood, which offers free services to all women,” advised Espinal.

At a national level, there are an estimated 4,000 CPCs, compared to the 2,000 licensed reproductive health centers offering abortion services.

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One Comment

  1. Alexandra Brito says:

    EMC can open wherever it pleases! Bridge does wonderful work. Espinal represents a very poor neighborhood in Brooklyn, Brownsville. I guess he does not want poor women to be able to choose life rather than abort! Does Espinal believe that low income Hispanic women do not love their babies? If so, I guess that makes him a racist!

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