How to Spot a “Fake Clinic”

What exactly is a fake clinic?

Fake women’s health centers—AKA fake clinics—are anti-abortion counseling centers with an agenda. Their goal is to deceive and pressure people to carry a pregnancy to term. Some have some kind of medical license, but the vast majority do not—even if they might appear to from the outside. 

Fake clinics started popping up in the late 60s and really took off in the 80s and 90s after a federal law prohibited blocking abortion clinic entrances. Anti-abortion groups wanted a “friendlier” way to deter people from having an abortion. The Christian Action Council, later renamed CareNet, now has more than 1,100 affiliated fake clinics in its network.

From the beginning, fake clinics were designed to be deceptive — to open as close as possible to real abortion providers, to use names that sound like real women’s health centers, and to deflect on the telephone when asked if an abortion is provided. 

Who funds them? We do. In many states, taxpayers fund fake clinics. Fracking Billionaire Farris Wilks, anti-choice foundations, and some church communities contribute millions to the cause as well.

Isn’t it medical malpractice to lie to patients? Most fake “clinics” are unlicensed, so they don’t fall under medical board requirements. Licensed clinics still lie to patients and patients have the right to file a complaint with their state Medical Board.

So… why are they legal? Fake clinics are considered “religious outreach,” and programs and are protected by the First Amendment (cough-bullshit-cough). But thanks to dedicated activists, fake clinics are starting to be held accountable for their deceptive practices. CA now has state-wide regulations, and New York City and San Francisco have passed ordinances requiring truth in advertising.

What is relationship between fake clinics and anti-abortion protesters? Fake women’s health centers often have strong ties to the anti-abortion extremist community, including clinic picketers. Protesters outside of real providers hand out fake clinic literature and encourage pregnant people to go to their local fake clinic.

How can you tell if it’s a fake clinic or a real clinic? It’s tricky—by design! Fake clinics are intentionally sneaky, and they often set up shop right next to real clinics. One good tip off: if ads or flyers emphasize how dangerous abortion can be, it’s probably a fake clinic. If a website has “abortion information” but nothing about ACTUAL abortion services they provide, it’s probably a fake clinic. If you call to ask for an abortion, and they won’t talk to you about abortion over the phone and instead urge you to come in… it’s probably a fake clinic. Visit the Public v. Private persona page for more info, and check out our map of fake clinics across the country.

What are some of their strategies? 

  • Fake clinics advertise to target pregnant people who may be seeking abortion care.
  • Fake clinics work with protesters to intimidate people going into abortion provider offices.
  • Fake clinics lie to patients once they’re inside. 
  • Fake clinics do not follow HIPAA regulations (because HIPAA only applies to actual medical providers).
  • Fake clinics share patient data, and they try to intimidate legit providers.
  • Fake clinics will NOT tell you how much it costs to get an abortion but instead try to get you to come in to discuss the price.
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