On the morning of March 20, in freezing rain, opposing groups of protestors held competing rallies at the steps of the Supreme Court to mark the day oral arguments would be heard in National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA) v. Becerra, a free-speech case involving abortion. NIFLA, an organization that supports pro-life pregnancy centers nationwide, is challenging the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals’ upholding of the 2015 California Reproductive FACT law (Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care and Transparency), which would require pro-life medical clinics to advertise (in a large-size font and in as many as 13 different languages) where women can obtain low-cost abortions. The law would further require pregnancy centers that are not medical clinics to declare this in super-size fonts on the premises and in all advertisements.
This Supreme Court case is the culmination of a long harassment campaign against pro-life pregnancy centers, organized and supported by a coalition of abortion activists and profiteers, including NARAL and Planned Parenthood. Since the 2016 elections there has been a surge in online efforts to recruit activists and donors, especially through the website and social media presence of ExposeFakeClinics.com.
The motivation is clear: As the website says, “Currently in the United States, there are close to 4,000 pregnancy centers, compared to 780 abortion providers.” There are, in other words, thousands of privately-funded pregnancy centers offering free services, goods, and support to women and their families, compared to 780 abortion businesses worried about their bottom line. And they are worried: According to LifeNews, the national trend has abortion businesses closing at a higher rate than new clinics opening;1 meanwhile, in addition to creating and supporting pro-life pregnancy centers, pro-life organizations have been actively publicizing the locations of federally supported clinics that offer full healthcare (except abortion) for women.2
Pregnancy centers in the U.S. today range from non-medical clinics that provide pregnancy tests and counseling, to licensed medical clinics that offer ultrasounds, medical testing, STD testing and treatment, and referrals for prenatal care and parenting classes. But according to ExposeFakeclinics.com, these distinctions are irrelevant: They are all “fake clinics” that:
Do NOT provide comprehensive reproductive health care—or much of any “health care” at all! Instead, they use phony ads to trick pregnant people into making an appointment, promising “free ultrasounds” or “pregnancy support.” Once inside, people are lied to, shamed, and pressured about their reproductive health decisions, often delaying their procedure or pushing them past the deadline for a legal abortion altogether.
Encouraging visitors to the site to help “end the deception,” Expose Fake Clinics introduces a “toolkit” for activism: Review “fake clinics” online, “Click and ‘Like’ accurate” reviews, take to the streets and protest, and spread the word. . . . And of course, donate to the cause.
Expose Fake Clinics was kicked off with a national “week-of-action” last July 17-26 by Abortion Access Hackathon and Lady Parts Justice League, along with over 30 reproductive rights organizations. At the forefront of the movement is the Lady Parts Justice League (LPJL), which is largely the “baby” of comedienne, co-founder, and former head writer of The Daily Show, Lizz Winstead. In fact, Winstead and LPJL organized the bus trip to Washington, D.C., for the March 20 Supreme Court rally, where Winstead was a prominent speaker.
Lady Parts Justice, funded in 2012, is the political arm of the newer, tax-deductible “charity” Lady Parts Justice League, which describes itself as “a coven of hilarious badass feminists who use humor and pop culture to expose the haters fighting against reproductive rights.” LPJL’s branding is all gynecological, in mockery of a politician who once used the “lady parts” euphemism, so their mascot is a fuzzy stuffed uterus named Eunice, their events across country are the Vagical Mystery Tour, and awards are the Golden Probes . . . you get it. Because Winstead is a comedienne, many of the events are comedy nights that get mainstream media support and attention. Recently Winstead hosted a telethon fundraiser, “Life Is a Living Nightmare: A Telethon to Fix It,” that featured Star Wars actor Mark Harmon and abortionist Willie Parker. Almost four hours of “bizarre content” included abortion charades—and in one such charade, comedienne Sarah Silverman declared, of a law preventing aborted fetuses from being used in manufactured food products, “If anything has ever made me want to eat an aborted fetus, it’s this law.” She also mocked a law that called for burying aborted fetuses, saying, “F’cking funerals for f’cking aborted fetuses? I would like to speak at those funerals. He lived the way he died. He died the way he lived. The size of a sesame seed with no discerning brain function.”3
Who Is Lizz?
In August, my colleague and I attended a free Lady Parts Justice League event about the “Fake Clinics” movement, part of the “Speak Up Rise Up” storytelling festival on the lower East Side of Manhattan. Lizz Winstead opened the event by recounting her own experience with teen pregnancy and a “fake clinic.” The youngest child in a big Catholic family in Minnesota, Lizz became pregnant the first time she had sex (because using birth control would have involved two sins). Terrified, she saw an ad on a bus for pregnancy help. The place she arrived at looked homey and warm at first, but then she noticed that there were religious posters and imagery on the walls, but no medical information. A woman there, she says, gave her a pregnancy test, which came back positive, and then offered two options—have the baby and keep it or have the baby and give it up for adoption. Lizz headed out of there, but not before hearing the woman call after her, “Remember, it’s mommy—or murder.” She got back on the bus, she says, and found a real abortion clinic.
Winstead knows the power of a good story; this story, it turns out, has a life of its own as a Big Abortion money engine. In 2012, Winstead went on a reproductive rights fundraising tour for NARAL and Planned Parenthood, ending many events with a reading of “All Knocked Up” (included in her 2012 book of essays Lizz Free or Die, and pretty much word for word what we heard that evening at Speak Up). After the “Lizz: your choices are mommy or murder” comment, Lizz writes:
I walked out. She had just reaffirmed everything I now feared. I am a dumb bitch. I am a dumb whore. And a criminal.
She defined me. This woman on this gray winter day in 1979, she looked at me, a completely clueless 17 year old girl, right in the face and confirmed, “Your life is insignificant.” How could she say she was pro-life when she wasn’t pro my life?4
On that evening at Speak Up, Lizz did not reveal any details about her actual abortion experience (nor, as far as I can find, has she done so publicly anywhere else).
The Speak Up Rise Up festival event in New York City was remarkable for its vulgarity (a raffle to support the cause awarded a vibrator for first prize) and its virulent hatred of religion, especially Catholicism. Time and time again pregnancy centers were referred to as dark, evil, creepy, and shaming—because of their religious foundations. (To see a really disturbing video of this kind of anti-religious rhetoric, see “Crisis Pregnancy Centers” on Full Frontal with Samantha Bee.5) Lizz recounted clerics “christening” a pregnancy center like it was some sort of evil ship launching, with holy water standing in for champagne. The depth of her hatred against the Catholic Church makes greater sense if you read more of the “Messays,” as she dubs them, that make up her book. Winstead is a furious and sort of cliché’d ex-Catholic. Born the youngest of five children, she describes growing up in a huge extended family where “there were always babies around.” Her family was like the “Costco of procreation,” and she seemed to forever be going to baby showers (which she hated) and given baby dolls (which she despised). We learn many things that disturbed her about the Catholic faith of her parents, from finding out that her beloved dog would not go to heaven, to resenting not being allowed to become an altar boy so she could rake in money serving at weddings and funerals: “Why wouldn’t I be allowed? It’s not like part of the job was hauling around anvils, and those dresses the boys wore were pretty much unisex. It didn’t seem like the penis came into play. (Don’t go there.)”
She found all the religious imagery in her home creepy and wrote that, “to the day she died,” her Mom “had more pictures of Jesus hanging on her walls than she did me.” There is some poignancy offsetting the book’s snark: It is clear Lizz loved her parents and grieved their deaths keenly. She writes that while her parents hated her abortion advocacy, they were at the same time proud of her courage. And she dedicated her book to her parents: “My mom and dad didn’t live to see this book come out. I hope it would make them proud. I would be shattered for any outcome shy of that.”
In an online interview:
So, my mom, super Catholic, very upset that I had an abortion, very upset, was like, “I really want you to not write about the abortion in your book.” And I was like, Mom, I know this has been a bone of contention in our relationship but I hope that you think I was a good daughter. And she was like, “Yes, yes, but I just worry about your mortality and I just think that I just really need you to make peace with God about your abortion…” and my sister whispers in my ear, “Which one?”
I was like, “Just shut up! Are you seriously in my ear saying ‘which one’ right now?!”6
In Winstead’s final chapter, “Somebody Had to Say It,” she explains that she became a crusader for abortion access because she was noticing a disturbing trend: There were “good abortions,” which happened because “you got pregnant during a horrible sexual circumstance,” making you a victim; and then there were “bad abortions,” which happened because “you got pregnant for any other reason.” But “the reality is, we are a country who has sex. We f’ck and we like it, and sometimes that leads to unintended pregnancy.” She has hitched her career wagon to what she calls a “medical procedure that should always be safe and legal, because it will always be necessary.”
For Lizz, whose career has taken some hits (she was also a founder of the now defunct Air America Radio), this advocacy seems to fulfill several needs: a job, publicit, and the opportunity to be that “bad girl” who underneath it all is actually a “shero” for women. Or Womenn.
What are the Claims of “Fake” Clinics?
Let’s start with deception. It is true that many pregnancy centers deliberately seek out locations next to abortion clinics and use similar names so that women may mistakenly enter their doors. This is a matter of some debate in the movement—but most support this temporary deception as a means of saving lives.
An example is The Hartford Women’s Center in Connecticut, a particular target of Lady Parts Justice League that was featured in a video shown at the New York City event and also posted on ExposeFakeclinics.com. In the video, two young women, “Amber and Jackie,” sip wine as they talk about how terrible fake clinics are: They set up shop literally next door to an abortion clinic and “use a similar name and EVEN the same font!” The video flashes to a photo of a directory sign featuring The Hartford Women’s Center and Hartford GYN—along with two or three other businesses (all in the same typeface and font). The Hartford Women’s Center is only about 20 feet from the NARAL affiliate abortion clinic (whose motto is “Abortion: 100 percent of what we do”).7 As we learned at Rise Up, a posse from NARAL turned up one day to attend a meeting at Hartford GYN and they walked into the Hartford Women’s Center by mistake!
That is less likely to happen in the future, because last fall LPJL traveled to Hartford and painted a “yellow brick road” to the abortion clinic. This took place in the week of action beginning October 23; which is interesting, because on October 21, a woman was removed from Hartford GYN by ambulance. You can hear the actual 911 call via Operation Rescue, which monitors abortion clinics.8 A registered nurse, Madeline, called to request an ambulance for a patient with “excessive bleeding.” When asked if the patient was conscious, Madeline replied, “she is sedated, under procedure.” The ambulance was dispatched under “Priority 1,” which designates the most urgent of cases.
So perhaps the “yellow brick road” LPJL painted actually does help women? It makes it crystal clear where the ambulances should go. Except that this ambulance was directed to drive around to the “back parking lot.”
Amber and Jackie, the women sipping wine in the video, warn that the “fake” clinics try to scare women away from abortion with false information, like the “crazy ass lies” that there is a link between abortion and breast cancer, infertility, and depression (all assertions made by pro-choice investigative journalist Punam Kumar Gill in her recent documentary, Hush).9 To abortion promoters, accurate facts about fetal development are also “fake,” though the science is clear and irrefutable. They accuse pregnancy centers of misrepresenting the age of the unborn child when they show women sonograms; but it is the sonogram images themselves that really scare abortion activists, as studies have shown that what really turns pregnant women and their partners away from abortion is the overwhelming effect of seeing their own child’s sonogram picture.
One of the most egregious lies Amber and Jackie spout is this: “At the worst of the worst of these places, they will string women along, promising them help with childcare and diapers right up until they reach the legal limit for abortion. Then cut them off, sending them away with a box of diapers and a prayer, leaving them to fend for themselves.” While of course no one can vouch for every pregnancy center in the U.S., it is clear that the majority of them offer a tremendous amount of help to women who choose to continue their pregnancies. Most offer parenting classes, diapers and baby clothes, and aid in applying for various forms of government assistance. And most are associated with maternity homes that will house pregnant women and other children, some for up to a year or more. (For a profile of one such home, see Ifeoma Anunkor’s “Good Counsel for Mothers and Babies,” page 19). In addition, many centers offer post-abortion counseling—whereas, on the pro-abortion side, post-abortion regret is just another “lie” that Expose Fake Clinics attacks.
What Has the Fake Clinics Movement Accomplished?
The fake clinics movement has raised funds for the abortion industry. Beyond that, it is unclear how successful they have been. Some of the movement’s efforts have been embarrassing—for them. Take their online reviewing tactics. While Lizz encouraged those of us at Rise Up to get together for reviewing parties, to drink wine and help each other write online reviews, some activists who took their advice were betrayed by their enthusiasm. One woman with the user name “access Columbus” posted “well over 100 negative reviews on pregnancy centers’ Google My Business profiles, starting with Columbus Ohio, and moving steadily through the Midwest and even up into Canada.” Each review used the same words, claiming that the center was “a religious facility masquerading as a medical facility. This is a FAKE CLINIC.” The pregnancy centers notified Google, which ended up removing over 40 negative reviews.10 In general, pregnancy centers still fare well on Google, and come up in online searches more plentifully than abortion clinics. The reason for this, as Pregnancy Help News explains, is that “Google prioritizes—as much as any other factor—actual feedback from former clients via its Google My Business. While close to 99 percent of former pregnancy center clients turn into veritable evangelists—and many start volunteering at the centers right away—the opposite is true of abortion businesses.”11
Protests can be annoying and can intimidate women who may want to visit the pregnancy centers, but in general they are not effective. As Thomas Glessner, president of the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates, said, “These centers exist in every major community in the country” and are well-known in the community; thus when “the other side tries to create hysteria over the work of prolife centers the campaign is usually greeted with a big yawn from the public at large.” Sometimes protests can also royally backfire, as was the case at the ABC Women’s Center in Middletown, CT, last July during the week of action. According to the then-Client Services Manager, Christina Marie Bennett, they were alerted ahead of time of a planned protest. When a group of women arrived outside ABC’s door with signs about fake clinics, they were met on the other side of the door by employees, volunteers, and clients of ABC, who were holding signs that said: “I am not a Fake Nurse”; “I am not a Fake Sonographer”; and “ABC helps my family.”
When NARAL came, they brought signs that said, “Abortion is Healthcare” and the commonly used, “My body, my choice.” They yelled and chanted about fighting the stigma and stopping “fake clinics.” At one point, this group of people (notably all Caucasian) began chanting the phrase, “Stay woke,” a phrase signifying awareness of the struggles facing the Black community. As a Black woman, I had to laugh, because their chant was the exact opposite of what they were doing. We had a beautiful, diverse representation of women and men countering their attack. We had Black and Latina clients expressing through their signs that our center has changed their lives for the better.12
The weapon that can really hurt pregnancy centers is legislation involving heavy fines (and ridiculous requirements). Several cities and states have attempted restrictive laws—such legislation succeeded in New York City, but didn’t hold up to a federal challenge in Baltimore, for example. In Hartford, CT the city council authorized a law that would require Hartford Women’s Center to identify itself as a non-medical clinic, even though it has licensed nurses and sonographers who work under a doctor’s supervision. But the council blinked because of NIFLA v. Becerra, and the law won’t go into effect until July 1—at which point (we hope and pray) it will be moot. Both sides are waiting anxiously for the ruling, which will come down in June, though initial reports are that even the liberal Supreme Court justices were skeptical about the constitutionality of the FACT law.
Fake Clinics or Fake Feminism?
Winstead and her cohorts protested a pregnancy center last summer dressed as early feminists from the time of Susan B. Anthony, which is kind of shortsighted, as history records that the early feminists were passionately against abortion.13 Pro-abortion activists like to say that pro-life feminism is not a thing. But pro-life feminists insist that, as a billboard funded by WhatAbortionReallyIs.com says: “Abortion is fake feminism.”
Why? Destiny Herndon-De La Rosa is the founder of New Wave Feminists, an organization that burst upon the scene in 2012 (which described themselves as “Badass. Pro-Life. Feminist.” before LPJS came out with their “coven of hilarious badass feminists.”) Asked how she can be pro-life and feminist, Herndon-De La Rosa put it this way:
We talk about smashing patriarchal constructs because they are the epitome of “might makes right.” When only men held all of the power and status, those that wanted to were able to control our bodies and use aggressive violence against us whenever they saw fit. In many parts of the world this is still a reality for too many women. This type of mentality MUST be smashed, not imitated.
Yet here we are, doing that exact same thing to our status-less, voiceless, non-consenting unborn children simply because we are bigger and stronger and they are the weak and powerless ones this time.
Abortion takes our newfound liberation and uses it not to protect the weak and vulnerable but instead to perpetuate the very violence we were once oppressed by ourselves.14
Lady Parts Justice League’s brand of feminism is an in-your-face abortion lovefest. It glorifies irresponsible sex and proposes raunchiness and sick comedy as an avenue of social justice. The Expose Fake Clinics campaign, while it may in part be an effort by women sublimating post-abortion regret to rationalize abortion, is at its base a terrifically well-funded effort to protect the billions of dollars made annually by the abortion industry. Big Abortion is the evil, creepy, and shameful reality that needs to be exposed.
- “21 Abortion Clinics Have Closed in 2017, Planned Parenthood Has Shut Down 20 Since 2010,” Cheryl Sullenger, May 24, 2017. http://www.lifenews.com/2017/05/24/21-abortion-clinics-have-closed-in-2017-planned-parenthood-has-shut-down-20-since-2010/.
- “‘Comedian’ Sarah Silverman Says Pro-Life Laws ‘Make Me Want to Eat an Aborted Fetus’” Corinne Weaver, Feb. 2, 2018. http://www.lifenews.com/2018/02/02/comedian-sarah-silverman-says-pro-life-laws-make-me-want-to-eat-an-aborted-fetus/
- from “All Knocked Up,” in Lizz Free or Die [Essays], Lizz Winstead, Riverhead Books, New York, 2012.
- “Crisis Pregnancy Centers” Full Frontal with Samantha Bee, TBS. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SY0A6gyyQys&feature=youtube
- “Interview: Lizz Winstead on her new book, Politics and Douchebags Running Everything, Eclectoblog, July 2, 2013.” http://www.eclectablog.com/2013/07/interview-lizz-winstead-on-her-new-book-politics-and-douchebags-ruining-everything.html/
- “Wedged Between Abortion Mill and NARAL Hub, New Pregnancy Center Surrounded, Simplified,” Jay Hobbs, May 22, 2017. https://pregnancyhelpnews.com/wedged-between-abortion-mill-and-naral-hub-new-pregnancy-center-surrounded-simplified
- “911: Woman Bleeding Excessively in Middle of Abortion at Connecticut Abortion Facility.”
- Operation Rescue, November 17, 2018. https://www.operationrescue.org/archives/911-woman-bleeding-excessively-in-middle-of-abortion-at-connecticut-abortion-facility/
- HUSH: A liberating conversation about abortion and women’s health. http://hushfilm.com/“Google Removes False Reviews Slandering Pro-Life Centers as ‘Fake Abortion Clinics’”, Jay Hobbs, October 30, 2017. http://www.lifenews.com/2017/10/30/google-removes-false-reviews-slandering-pro-life-centers-as-fake-abortion-clinics/
- “Pro-Life Centers are Kicking Planned Parenthood’s Tail on Google,” Jay Hobbs, February 14, 2018.
- “NARAL Protest Flops: ABC Women’s Center Shines,” Christina Bennett, July 24, 2018. www.ctfamily.org/naral-protest-flops-abc-womens-center-shines/ “Pro-Abortionists Dress Up as Early Feminists to Protest Pro-Life Pregnancy Center. Just One Problem …,” Jay Hobbs, August 31, 2017. https://www.christianpost.com/news/pro-abortionists-dress-up-as-early-feminists-to-protest-pro-life-pregnancy-center-just-one-problem-197494/
- “Pro-Life Feminism,”Destiny Herndon-De La Rosa, April 7, 2018 http://newwavefeminists.blogspot.com/