Despite the US Supreme Court decision to revoke federal protections for abortion, abortion remains legal in Washington. However, there are still attacks on reproductive freedom within the state that must be addressed.
Crisis Pregnancy Centers (CPCs) are anti-abortion organizations that divert people from receiving abortion care by using coercive tactics and medical disinformation. In Washington, CPCs outnumber abortion-providing facilities 2 to 1. They position themselves strategically to target young, low-income, and/or marginalized communities. As a coalition of University of Washington students from Huskies for Reproductive Freedom, If/When/How Chapter, Pacific Abortion Project, and our union UAW 4121, we are concerned about the presence of CPCs near our campuses and the statewide lack of holding these harmful organizations accountable.
CPCs are a public health risk that delay access to essential prenatal and abortion care, negatively impacting maternal health. These fake clinics lure people in with free services and proceed to mislead them, claiming that abortions cause breast cancer and infertility and that medication abortion can be reversed.
CPCs have also intentionally lied to clients by reporting incorrect gestational ages of their pregnancy. This pushes people into second-trimester abortions, which are more expensive and harder to obtain, or can prevent people from accessing abortion altogether. While CPCs present themselves as medical offices, no CPCs in Washington provide contraception, and the majority do not provide prenatal care or STI-related services.
Of particular concern is how CPCs target college students. Currently, students at the University of Washington and other public universities across the state cannot receive abortion services on campus, despite demand for these services. Because students must leave campus to access care, they are at increased risk of being intercepted by nearby CPCs and facing the subsequent negative health and economic consequences. Our universities can protect the safety and well-being of their students by issuing public statements condemning the deceitful practices of CPCs and providing medication abortion on campus, as California, Massachusetts, and individual campuses have already done.
Most CPCs are affiliated with and funded by evangelical Christian anti-abortion organizations, such as the National Christian Charitable Foundation. Increasingly, CPCs are obtaining state and federal funds, including from Title X, a federal grant program that provides contraceptive services to low-income families, and the CARES Act. Clinic networks Obria and CareNet operate clinics across Washington state and have received federal Title X and CARES Act Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) funds, respectively.
In the absence of action by the State Legislature, municipalities have attempted to quell the harmful impacts of CPCs. In 2017, King County passed an ordinance that CPCs must present a disclaimer that they are not a medical facility, though many have found a way around this regulation by hiring staff who hold some health care provider certification or accreditation. In September 2022, Seattle City Council passed legislation prohibiting deceptive practices of CPCs, yet CPCs continue to target vulnerable populations within city limits.
The Reproductive Privacy Act, passed by Washingtonians in 1991, declared that every person possesses the right of personal reproductive decisions and that the state may not deny or interfere with that right. To truly protect this right, the Legislature must create laws that prohibit deceptive advertising and combat misinformation from CPCs.
Washington state and its municipalities should enforce fines for false advertising and deceptive practices and restrict state funding for these fake clinics. Until these laws are passed, the state government and influential entities like the University of Washington could mitigate the harm perpetuated by CPCs by investing in public health campaigns that inform the public about CPC’s deceptive practices, locations, and harmful impacts.
Taylor Riley, MPH, is an epidemiology doctoral student.
Ashley Rot is a law student affiliated with If/When/How Lawyers for Reproductive Justice.
Erin Angelini, MA, is an advanced mathematics doctoral student.
Anya Fogel is an undergraduate biology student and affiliated with Huskies for Reproductive Freedom.
Bella Stokes is a medical student affiliated with Pacific Abortion Project.
All authors are students at the University of Washington.