Worcester Officials Applying Screws To Crisis Pregnancy Centers, Two Weeks After Attack

Printed from: https://newbostonpost.com/2022/07/20/worcester-officials-applying-screws-to-crisis-pregnancy-centers-two-weeks-after-attack/

Worcester city councilors are looking to pass an ordinance that would ban what it calls “deceptive advertising” by crisis pregnancy centers and would force such centers to offer referrals for abortion.

The resolution, discussed at a city council meeting Tuesday, directs the city solicitor and city manager to examine comparable measures passed by other Massachusetts municipalities, specifically Somerville, Easthampton, and Cambridge.

City councilors approved the measure on a 6-5 vote Tuesday, July 19 — 12 days after the two crisis pregnancy centers in Worcester were hit with overnight vandalism.

Supporters of the measure say it’s designed to root out bad behavior, not necessarily all pro-life advocacy.

“If these centers aren’t deceptive, they have nothing to worry about,” said city councilor Thu Nguyen, who sponsored the resolution, during the council meeting Tuesday.

“I wish I didn’t have to say this, but reproductive rights and health care for people is not a fry or burger to order at McDonald’s or Burger King or Wendy’s or KFC, you know. Abortion is health care; we have to enforce a standard for health care,” Nguyen added.

Councilor Morris Bergman, an attorney, took issue with the argument that crisis pregnancy centers have nothing to fear if they aren’t doing anything wrong. “You don’t assume somebody’s doing something wrong and then worry about it afterwards. If you’re going to change the law, you gotta prove that they’re doing something wrong,” Bergman said.

Later in her opening statement, Nguyen mentioned that Massachusetts attorney general Maura Healey has recently warned about such centers.

“Crisis pregnancy centers that are deceptive in their advertising and biased in their treatment will mislead and harm people seeking care,” Nguyen said. “Attorney General Maura Healey released a warning on these centers. I mean our own attorney general. Massachusetts all over is really cracking down on these, once again, deceptive places that claim to offer reproductive health care services despite their goals to prevent and steer people away from providing abortion and contraceptions.”

Councilor Etel Haxhiaj also spoke in favor of the resolution, saying the people hurt the most by crisis pregnancy centers are “young people who haven’t had access to comprehensive sex education, our trans youth especially, the LGBT community. These CPC centers are increasingly connected to national theme of anti-trans, anti-LGBTQ, anti-sex-ed comprehensive conversations that we also heard and witnessed here in Worcester.”

Haxhiaj also read a statement from a resident of Worcester on her cell phone, who compared crisis pregnancy centers to a business that falsely claimed to offer Covid tests in Worcester.

The constituent might be describing the Center for COVID Control, a business that had advertised Covid tests and collected a sample and personal information from would-be customers but didn’t give results. The center was shut down earlier this year.

Crisis pregnancy center proprietors say that they make it clear they do not offer abortions. Kelly Wilcox, the executive director of Clearway Clinic in Worcester, spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting.

“We do not provide or refer for abortions,” Wilcox said. “Patients, however, must sign an authorization before they come to us for services where it’s clearly understood they are not coming to us for abortions. We tell them on the phone that, and I’ve given for the record our marketing ads that clearly state right on them, stamped across the top, ‘We do not provide abortions or abortion referrals.’ ” 

In an email message to NewBostonPost on Wednesday, Wilcox provided her crisis pregnancy center’s authorization form and advertisements, both of which she submitted to the city council on July 19. Under “Authorization of Services,” in bold are the words “Clearway Clinic does not perform, prescribe or refer for abortion.”

The center’s advertisements come with the notice “Does not provide abortions,” in compliance with Google’s policies. Both documents can be found at the bottom of this story.

Wilcox detailed the services her center offers during the council meeting. “We strive to provide long-term relationships with our patients and clients, and we have more than a 44% referral rate for our patients, so we are very proud about our patient satisfaction. Women come to us for an abundance of free services — pregnancy services, post-abortion care that is abortion pill reversal treatment, pre-natal health classes, baby goods, diapers, car seats, strollers, et cetera. We served over 600 families last year with free medical care,” Wilcox said.

Clearway Clinic promotes pro-life alternatives to abortion and also provides post-abortion counseling.

Several women who have had abortions spoke during public comment, describing the desperate emotional situation they were in and what the crisis pregnancy centers in Worcester did to help. 

Toni Cooper, a Worcester resident who now works for Clearway Clinic, said that she had “undergone an abortion procedure at Planned Parenthood, the one on Pleasant Street in Worcester. In the aftermath of that, I was feeling heartbroken and remorseful, and I was at a loss as to how to move forward in my life. I contemplated ending my life because I couldn’t see a way to move forward. I found myself asking questions like, How do I grieve that loss? I chose this. Am I allowed to experience grief? How do I honor that life? And I know for certain that I am not the only woman to arrive at this place.” 

Cooper characterized Clearway as serving “with love and kindness and compassion, and out of moral conviction, they do not offer abortion.”

“That serves a unique person, a unique space in Worcester — women that find themselves grieving their decision after having an abortion,” Cooper said. “So if they don’t exist because an ordinance would effectively shut that down because morally they don’t believe in offering abortion services, who will serve people who find themselves, women who find themselves in that space of being remorseful?”

Corinne Kimball, also a Worcester resident, talked about sharing her experience after having an abortion on social media and being shocked “to see how many women felt the same way I did about their abortions.” 

“Clearway Clinic was a place for me to get help, and I know many women that can benefit from Clearway as well. Please do not take their business away,” Kimball said.

A married Worcester couple also spoke against the proposal. Mia McDonald described her experience of going for help to another Worcester crisis pregnancy center called Problem Pregnancy.

“I was not looking for an abortion; I was looking for resources. They provided me every resource I can imagine, access to health care, food, benefits, housing options. They gave me the confidence that I knew I could keep my baby. They took the stigma out of handouts,” McDonald said.

Her husband, Patrick McDonald, called the proposal by councilor Nguyen as being “especially egregious” given “that it comes on the heels of political violence directed against both of the crisis pregnancy centers in the city of Worcester.”

Both crisis pregnancy centers in Worcester were vandalized by a pro-abortion group on July 7.

The crisis pregnancy centers item on the city council’s agenda was called 12 C.

Patrick McDonald said that “by moving 12 C forward, the council would be sending the message that political violence is acceptable as long as it is in service to the right kind of ideology.”

Several who spoke during public comment urged the council to approve the proposal. 

Worcester resident Marcy Ostrow described crisis pregnancy centers as “fake health clinics.” 

“It is time to reveal their true intent, which is to restrict reproductive options through misinformation and deception,” she said.

Eric Stratton, a local resident, said that the city of Worcester is trying “to provide factually and medically accurate information. The four principles of biomedical ethics are Justice, Autonomy, Nonmaleficence, and Beneficence. And in my opinion, these facilities work to go against all of these. They are intentionally delaying, lying, and providing misinformation that can affect a person’s decision to choose to have an abortion. They are not pro-life; they are anti-choice.”

Ashley Rogers, a member of the Independent Socialist Group, criticized crisis pregnancy centers for not offering abortion. “Purporting to provide pregnancy services but refusing to include this essential piece is bad practice at best,” Rogers said.

Several Worcester city councilors spoke against the resolution.

Councilor Bergman voted against the crisis-pregnancy-centers resolution. Bergman said that he thought there were good points on both sides, but that ultimately, “if I’m gonna be asked to restrict one side or the other, I gotta have some proof that that’s warranted. I didn’t hear that tonight.”

“Tonight’s the night to try to prove this, and for me, it wasn’t proven that there’s deceptive advertising or misleading advertisement. Those words have been thrown out a lot; I didn’t hear one person come up today saying they were deceived or misled by going to the crisis centers. I didn’t hear that, if somebody did, please point it out. I didn’t hear one phone caller say they were deceived by going to any sort of crisis pregnancy centers,” Bergman added.

Bergman also questioned the timing of the proposed ordinance, saying that before the overturning of Roe v. Wade, he never heard any charge of deception against crisis pregnancy centers.

“I would also say I would find a lot more credibility,” Bergman said, “in seriously looking at the allegations that have been made if they came before this body a year ago, or two years ago, not in the eve of the Roe v. Wade decision — because have they just become misleading? I mean, that’s the allegation:  they’re misleading. Well, I haven’t heard anything about them being misleading. I’ve been a councilor for nine-plus years. All of a sudden, they’re misleading?”

Councilors Donna Colorio and Kathleen Toomey argued that the proposal would violate the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. 

“The Supreme Court made it very clear that the government cannot target certain messages because it doesn’t like a particular viewpoint. These organizations should have the freedom to continue to operate without government interference,” Colorio said.

Colorio was likely referring to a 2018 Supreme Court case called National Institute of Family and Life Advocates v. Becerra, which struck down a provision in a California law that sought to force crisis pregnancy centers to put up a notice that the state of California offered “free or low-cost access” to abortion for eligible women.

The Worcester city councilors who voted in favor of the order were Etel Haxhiaj, Khrystian King, Thu Nguyen, Sean Rose, George Russell, and Mayor Joseph Petty.

The councilors who voted against the order were Morris Bergman, Donna Colorio, Kathleen Toomey, Candy Mero-Carlson, and Sarai Rivera.

City councilors discussed the crisis-pregnancy-centers resolution conjointly with a resolution that affirms a right to an abortion and urges elected officials to pass legislation to codify abortion rights. That resolution passed 7-3.

Below are links for the Clearway Clinic forms and advertisements the clinic provided to NewBostonPost by email:

Clearway Clinic Authorization Form

Clearway Clinic Advertisements 


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