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Unmasking Fake Clinics: The California Edition of 12th and Delaware

Written by Alexa Cole for - News, commentary and community for reproductive health and justice.

The premiere of HBO’s documentary 12th and Delaware marked the first time a mass audience got an inside look at a so-called “crisis pregnancy center” (CPC). Like many of you, I watched as the “counselor” at the CPC featured in the film manipulated and misled women in crisis situations. I still can’t get some of the scenes out of my mind, such as the one in which the CPC director tells a woman that going forward with her pregnancy could make her verbally abusive boyfriend change his behavior.

The film gave vivid examples of threats CPCs pose to women’s freedom and privacy, and I am glad it’s starting a conversation in the blogosphere and beyond—but, one thing bothers me. The documentary takes place in Fort Pierce, Florida, across the country from my state of California.

I work as a pro-choice advocate in California, so I often hear from friends that bad things going on in Florida or other parts of the country wouldn’t happen here. I mean, how could a CPC operate in California? It’s the most pro-choice state in the country, right? And if CPCs are here, they must be few and far between.

Well, CPCs are here, and I can relate to the manipulation that many women in the film were subjected to because I experienced it myself right here in my backyard.

During the summer months of 2009, NARAL Pro-Choice California Foundation staff sent volunteers to CPCs around the state.  These volunteers posed as women who might be facing an unplanned pregnancy and who needed both a pregnancy test and knowledge of their options.  As volunteers on the project, they were trained to be unbiased and neutral throughout the investigation in order to ensure accuracy and after each visit filled out a lengthy debriefing form on everything they saw, spoke of, and read in the center.  

Their stories are troubling. One volunteer was told that “women who have abortions have strong reactions when they hear vacuums because they use vacuums to remove the fetus.” Another volunteer was asked if she “wanted to be branded as a loose woman…to have [her] name written on bathroom walls.”  Others’ questions about abortion and contraception were ignored or met with hostility and judgment. If and when abortion was brought into the conversation, CPC employees used delay tactics and graphic images to deter women from seeing abortion as an option. 

The results of this investigation, published by NARAL Pro-Choice California Foundation in its report Unmasking Fake Clinics, demonstrate that the pro-choice state of California is under attack from the “fake clinic” arm of the anti-choice movement. Read more