A pro-choice organization released the results of a two-year undercover investigation Monday examining more than 200 unlicensed and unregulated pregnancy centers across the state.
The report, titled "Unmasking Fake Clinics: the Truth about Crisis Pregnancy Centers in California," asserts that the clinics make false claims linking abortion to breast cancer and infertility and dissuade particularly vulnerable women from receiving accurate medical advice.
The investigation, which included visits to 14 clinics in six counties and phone calls to an additional 200 centers across the state, was conducted by the NARAL Pro-Choice California Foundation unpaid staff and volunteers over a six-month period ending in August 2009.
"Every pregnant woman needs reliable, medically accurate information about parenting, adoption and abortion," doctor Jennifer Kerns, an obstetrician/gynecologist and fellow with Physicians for Reproductive Choice and Health, said in a prepared statement.
"The last thing she needs is to be misled and manipulated by a crisis pregnancy center posing as a legitimate medical facility," Kerns said.
Calls placed to at least six different crisis pregnancy centers around the Bay Area went unreturned, and the director of the Pregnancy Resource Center of Santa Cruz was unavailable for comment over the weekend.
According to the report, only 59 percent of California counties have an abortion provider, while 91 percent have at least one Crisis Pregnancy Center, or CPC, which NARAL asserts are linked to anti-abortion umbrella organizations.
NARAL Pro-Choice California Foundation's mission is to protect a woman's right to make personal decisions regarding reproductive choices.
Amy Everitt, the California organization's state director, said that the report will be distributed to community-based organizations that provide medical referrals to the most at-risk groups of women, including those who are young, low-income, of color or from rural locations.
"No matter how a person feels about the question of legal abortion, everyone can agree that women should never be misled when seeking information about pregnancy, birth control, abortion or sexually transmitted disease," Everitt said.
The report claims that roughly 90 percent of CPCs are operated by three anti-choice organizations: the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates, Care Net and Heartbeat International.
On the main page of the Heartbeat International website, the organization describes is mission as one "to rescue woman and couples from the agony and violence of abortion through the development of neighborhood pregnancy help centers, maternity homes and adoption services."
The National Institute of Family and Life Advocates works to convert pregnancy help centers to medical clinic status, and lists the following benefits on its website: "an increase in the number of abortion-minded clients seen and a dramatic increase in the percentage of clients choosing life."
To gather the information, trained unpaid volunteers visited the clinics accompanied by a second volunteer so that they could listen to free counseling.
More than half of the clinics investigated highlighted mortality as a claimed complication from abortion and the unpaid volunteer investigators were ultimately "dissuaded from considering abortion as an option."
Part of the problem, Everitt said, is deceptive advertising, which is why the organization collected more than 66,000 signatures on a petition targeting two online information sites, YellowPages.com and SuperPages.com
On these sites, more than thirty centers nationwide, including two in California, were listed under "abortion information and referral services" or "abortion clinics", but were found not to offer those services or referrals, according to the report.
One crisis pregnancy center, Options for Women in Concord, which is listed on the crisis pregnancy clinic website www.lifecall.org, is a self-described "abortion clinic alternative".
In Baltimore, a similar investigative report led to the development of a bill requiring the clinics to post notices in English and Spanish clearly stating they do not provide or make referrals for abortion services or birth control. That bill was eventually passed by the city council and signed into law by the mayor.
Currently, NARAL's staff is working with city council members and county supervisors to develop local legislation similar to the bill in Baltimore.