The Coalition for Climate and Reproductive Justice disrupted a fundraiser for Caring Choices Pregnancy Help Center on Oct. 22 in Rochester, NY. Grossly misnamed, Caring Choices is a Crisis Pregnancy Center, a facility that poses as an abortion clinic, but whose real mission is to prevent people from having abortions.
While around 30 activists protested outside, four members of the Coalition sat inside the fundraiser itself. In the middle of the fundraiser, the activists, two at a time, stood and held signs that said “End Fake Clinics.” The 50 or so well-heeled, largely-white attendees were stunned. Ushers confronted the activists and escorted them out of the event. The ushers were forceful, grabbing one of the activists who was already peacefully on her way to exiting.
As the doors opened, the infiltrating activists were greeted with massive cheers and enthusiasm by their supporters outside. Infiltrator Maureen North said she was elated by the support and “felt the adrenaline rush for hours later!”
This disruption was part of an extended campaign to expose CPCs and defend communities from their predatory influence in upstate New York. Demonstrations also took place on Oct. 29 in three New York cities.
Crisis Pregnancy Centers, like the hypocritically named Caring Choices Pregnancy Help Center, are on the front lines in the battle to deny women their right to abortion. They target vulnerable people in need of this vital medical procedure.
While legitimate abortion clinics struggle to keep their doors open due to intense government restrictions, last year that at least 10 states diverted federal welfare funds to crisis pregnancy centers. While actual abortion centers decrease in numbers, these phony clinic flourish. CPCs now outnumber abortion clinics 3-to-1 nationally, according to Coalition organizers, and benefit tremendously from funding by rightwing Christian organizations and anti-abortion legislatures.
CPCs intentionally located their offices near abortion clinics to divert patients from them. They especially focus on oppressed communities. According to reproductive rights researchers, the share of Black and Latina women who live closer to a CPC than an abortion clinic has tripled since the overturn of Roe v. Wade.
They appear in Google searches for “abortion care” because they are named similarly to abortion clinics, so a web search for an abortion clinic often results in getting a CPC instead. This leaves people to sift through a minefield of fake clinics to find a real one.
Once people enter their facilities they are shamed for wanting an abortion, can be subjected to lectures about how abortion is a sin, and/or given harmful misinformation about abortion – that the procedure causes mental breakdown, infertility or breast cancer.
New York State still allows abortions up to 24 weeks with no waiting periods. However, for many rural and working-class people in upstate New York, abortion is very hard to access. In some upstate counties abortion-seekers have to travel 40 miles or more for services, including access to medication abortion. For example, Coalition organizers called major health providers in Geneva, New York, and found that none of them offered prescriptions for abortion pills or surgical abortion procedures. Planned Parenthood clinics are the main providers of abortion in the region, but they are disproportionately spread out, with some forced to close their doors during the COVID-19 pandemic.
CPC are taking advantage of this situation. Fake clinics outnumber real clinics 3-to-1 in New York, organizers explained. There are seven CPCs in Rochester alone, Rochester is the third poorest city in New York, with a population that is 40% Black.
If you are living in an area where CPCs are prevalent and want to expose them for their misleading actions, here are some steps that Rochester organizers say you can take:
- Stay abreast of what the CPCs in your area are doing. Organizer Jodi Dean said that the Coalition followed the media of CPCs and anti-feminist organizations in the area to decide what events they could protest.
- If you choose to infiltrate an event, sign up and get tickets. Many such events are free. Infiltrators can fold signs or banners and put them in purses or pockets in order to avoid detection when entering the event. The organizers in Rochester sent in two sets of moles so that after one set of two people disrupted the event, security and attendees were not prepared for a second disruption. Also, if one pair is caught with signs when entering and turned away, the second undetected team is still able to raise their signs or banners. When requested to leave, do so peacefully.
- If you are a mole be brave! Maureen North said her resolve was strong because the attendees supported “an organization that deceives women on a regular basis.”
The campaign to expose and eliminate CPCs in upstate New York is not slowing down! On Oct. 29 activist demonstrated in Rochester, Syracuse and Albany as part of a statewide day of action demanding “End Fake Clinics, Defend Abortion.”
In Albany activists dropped a banner with this slogan in front of Governor Kathy Hochul’s mansion, demanding that she shut the phony clinics down. They then went to nearly Latham, NY, to expose the phony clinic CompassCare, located in a building with actual medical providers and a OBGYN sign outside! Activists pointed out that this location aids their deceit that this CPC is a legitimate healthcare provider, bolstering its ability to do harm.
CompassCare security actually called the police on activists for simply holding a banner on the sidewalk in front of their facility! Clearly they have something to fear about being exposed.
In Rochester, activists gathered in front of 5 CPCs, one in the city and four in the suburbs. They were encouraged by passersby, many of whom were unaware of what the facilities actually are. Only four abortion providers operate in Rochester, with the next-closest being in Canandaigua. Seven CPCs operate in the area, and in smaller towns across the region.
“The Dobbs decision will drive a spike in travel to New York State for reproductive healthcare; we cannot allow CPCs to mislead pregnant people in our community, or our neighbors from other regions,” said Skye Kelley, the Secretary of the Socialist Feminist Collective, a working group within ROC DSA.
In Syracuse, more than 30 people gathered in front of the Syracuse Catholic Diocese to draw attention to the ways well-funded religious organizations target working class abortion seekers with lies. Tara Sandlin, an organizer of the Syracuse demonstration, denounced the misuse of religion to deny women essential healthcare. Of the CPSs she said, “We are angry — angry that they’re allowed to spew misinformation and angry that the unelected United States Supreme Court has ruled in favor of their right to do it, which they did back in 2018 with the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates v. Becerra decision, ruling in favor of crisis pregnancy centers, claiming that their freedom of speech protects their right to advertise themselves as they wish. That is wrong!”
Ralliers marched through downtown Syracuse chanting, “Hey hey, ho ho, these fake clinics have got to go!” and “Abortion is healthcare, and healthcare is a human right.” They were greeted by cheers and raised fists as they marched past busy downtown bars and restaurants. Activists also gathered signatures on a list of demands they plan to present to New York Governor Kathy Hochul and New York State lawmakers, including an end to all crisis pregnancy centers in NY. Organizers say Hochul could immediately:
- stop any and all state and local aid to CPCs;
- require all CPCs to disclose and post their funding sources. Remove CPCs from all state-funded community resource directories such as 211 CNY;
- require CPCs to post online and on their front entrances a notice that no medical staff works in the building, no abortions can be provided, and personnel are not obligated to keep “client” data private.
For the day of action the primary organizations involved were: PSL Finger Lakes, PSL Syracuse, PSL Albany/Hudson Valley, Coalition for Climate and Reproductive Justice, NYS for Abortion and Queer Liberation, Rochester DSA Socialist Feminist Caucus and Troy DSA.
Caption for lead photo: Rochester disruptor, greeted by protesters, holding the sign she unfolded inside. Liberation Photo.