Massachusetts Legislature Bill Would Ban ‘Deceptive Advertising’ At Crisis Pregnancy Centers

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A bill filed in the Massachusetts legislature seeks to ban what it calls “deceptive advertising” by pro-life crisis pregnancy centers.

The bill would require that no “limited services pregnancy center” will disseminate “any statement concerning any pregnancy-related service” that is “deceptive, whether by statement or omission” and that the center “knows or reasonably should know to be deceptive.”

In cases where a crisis pregnancy center has engaged in “deceptive advertising,” the bill would permit the state to recover “civil penalties of up to one thousand dollars per violation,” as well as “reasonable attorney’s fees and costs.”

The bill, filed in the Massachusetts House by state Representative Tram Nguyen (D-Andover) and state Representative Lindsay Sabadosa (D-Northampton), defines a “limited services pregnancy center” as “a pregnancy services center that does not directly provide, or provide referrals for, abortions or emergency contraception.”

Supporters of the measure say that deceptive advertising by crisis pregnancy centers is a prevalent problem and harms women who are seeking an abortion. They say some crisis pregnancy centers lure women in with promises of abortion but are planning to discourage women from getting an abortion. Opponents say that the bill is narrowly tailored to target crisis pregnancy centers because they don’t refer for abortions, and attempts to fix a problem that doesn’t exist. They also say “deceptive advertising” is a vague term that can be applied in inappropriate ways.

Representatives Nguyen and Sabadosa could not immediately be reached for comment.

NewBostonPost spoke to William Gillmeister, a legislative and education consultant with Massachusetts Family Institute, a pro-life, pro-family advocacy group, by telephone on Thursday, June 1.

Gillmeister called the bill “an underhanded attempt to crack down on Big Abortions’s main competitor, that is, the pro-life pregnancy resource centers,” referring to it as a “gag rule.”

“It’s blatant viewpoint discrimination because it targets the speech of only pro-life pregnancy resource centers while allowing free reign to abortion clinics,” Gillmeister continued.

Gilmeister also took issue with the way the bill uses the term “deceptive,” saying that abortion supporters can use the term to target debatable issues, supplying the example of possible mental health problems after receiving an abortion.

“The pro-abortion side totally refuses to admit that that’s possible, yet there is substantial evidence that suggests otherwise,” Gillmeister said, noting that under the bill the decision of whether a crisis pregnancy center is violating the law is made by the attorney general.

The bill has been referred to the state legislature’s Joint Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure. A hearing has not yet been scheduled.

A similar measure has been filed in the Massachusetts Senate by state Senator Barry Finegold (D-Andover). Both bills were filed on February 16.

Finegold could not immediately be reached for comment.

Crisis pregnancy centers are non-profit organizations that provide women experiencing unexpected pregnancies with ultrasounds, diapers, and food, among other things. Crisis pregnancy centers, often run by religious institutions, do not offer abortions or referrals for abortions because they believe abortion is immoral.

Several Massachusetts municipalities in the past year have passed or discussed similar measures to ones filed in the Massachusetts legislature. Somerville became the first to pass an ordinance banning what it called “deceptive advertising” in March 2022. Cambridge is the most recent Massachusetts municipality to pass such a measure, doing so in January 2023.

Connecticut in 2021 and Illinois in May 2023 enacted legislation similar to the one Massachusetts is considering.

Three crisis pregnancy centers in Massachusetts were vandalized last summer. Two were vandalized in Worcester in July 2022. Another was vandalized in Easthampton in August 2022.

In Planned Parenthood Federation of America v. Problem Pregnancy in 1986, the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled that under then-existing state law, crisis pregnancy centers cannot be sued for deceptive advertising because they do not charge money for their services. In the case, Planned Parenthood sued Problem Pregnancy, a crisis pregnancy center in Worcester, for using its moniker “PP” as part of its advertising.

A link to the current Massachusetts House bill is below.

An Act to protect patient privacy and prevent unfair and deceptive advertising of pregnancy-related services (H.377)


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