Chicagoans protested anti-abortion pregnancy centers July 15 at a rally organized by more than a dozen abortion rights advocacy groups. Credit: Provided/Al Nowakowski

CHICAGO — Crisis pregnancy centers that use misinformation to prevent people from seeking abortions can now be the subjected to state crackdowns.

Gov. JB Pritzker signed SB 1909 last week. The law is effective immediately.

It allows the Illinois Attorney General to investigate complaints about pregnancy centers that use deceptive practices and strengthens the state’s ability to prosecute these centers for consumer fraud, according to a news release from Pritzker’s office. 

People visit certain pregnancy centers with the expectation they’ll be able to receive a full range of reproductive healthcare services and pregnancy counseling. But some centers oppose abortion and won’t provide referrals for abortion care under any circumstances. 

Anti-abortion pregnancy centers have been known to provide false information about fetal development and risks related to abortion to discourage people from trying to terminate their pregnancies, experts have said.

“I witnessed deceptive crisis pregnancy center tactics firsthand on a visit to tour a Planned Parenthood health center in Illinois. People who appeared as though they might work there were outside attempting to divert patients away from the health center,” Attorney General Kwame Raoul said in the news release. 

There are about 100 anti-abortion pregnancy centers like this in Illinois and nearly 3,000 throughout the country, said Lisa Battisfore, founder of Reproductive Transparency Now. 

“I’m proud of Illinois for taking the first step to say we’re not giving anti-abortion pregnancy centers a free hall pass anymore,” Battisfore said. “But it’s going to take intention and consistency and action to really protect the people of Illinois.

“We have a lot of work to do when it comes to making sure people know their rights and think critically about what they’re hearing from these places.”  

More than a dozen abortion rights advocacy groups sponsored a rally against anti-abortion pregnancy centers in July. Credit: Provided/Al Nowakowski

Since many anti-abortion pregnancy centers aren’t regulated medical facilities, they don’t have to follow laws regarding confidentiality or accuracy, according to Pritzker’s news release. 

Many crisis pregnancy centers don’t have licensed medical professionals on staff, and are run by anti-abortion volunteers. Some advertise abortion reversals even though the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has said the treatment is not scientifically sound.  

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has recommended states strengthen laws against these centers to preserve patient safety, according to the news release. 

“Passing SB1909 is an important first step because it makes it clearer that there’s an avenue for people to get justice when they realize they have been done wrong by these ‘pregnancy services’,” Battisfore said. “It’s only a first step because people have to make complaints in order for the law to work, so it’s important for the community and the media to help people know what their options are.” 

People who’ve visited crisis pregnancy centers and experienced misinformation or false advertising can file a complaint with the Illinois Attorney General online. For more information about how to identify an anti-abortion pregnancy center, click here.

Raoul’s office can now investigate these complaints and impose fines if authorities determine a center used deception to interfere with a person’s right to reproductive healthcare. 

The civil penalties cannot exceed $50,000, according to the law. However, a center could receive multiple fines if there are multiple valid complaints made against them, Battisfore said. The law also allows people to seek damages and other relief, according to the law. 

The National Institute of Family and Life Advocates, an anti-abortion group, sued Raoul’s office to stop him from enforcing the law, according to a news release from its attorneys, the Thomas More Society. 

“This law is a blatant attempt to chill and silence pro-life speech under the guise of ‘consumer protection,’” Peter Breen, Thomas More’s executive vice president, said in a statement.

National Institute of Family and Life Advocates made a similar argument against California’s Reproductive Fact Act, which required pregnancy centers to alert patients about state-assisted abortions. 

The Reproductive Fact Act was struck down by the Supreme Court in February. With a 5-4 ruling, the court decided the law was unconstitutional due to the First Amendment and argued the government shouldn’t compel speech. 

“The National Institute of Family and Life Advocates are trying to make the same argument again, but what people need to realize is that Senate Bill 1909 does not compel speech,” Battisfore said. “It creates a safeguard for when someone has been deceived or defrauded by providing them a clear line for recourse.” 

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