Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is suing Yelp for a completely truthful consumer notice that the reviews website attached last year to listings for crisis pregnancy centers, or CPCs. Paxton is alleging that the note was deceptive; Yelp is countersuing.
Yelp originally added a label to CPCs saying that they “typically provide limited medical services and may not have licensed medical professionals on-site.” Following threats from Paxton, it changed the notice to “This is a Crisis Pregnancy Center. Crisis Pregnancy Centers do not offer abortions or referrals to abortion providers.” That’s true, but so was the original notice. According to a study that Duke University School of Medicine researchers published in the International Journal of Women’s Health:
A recent survey study conducted with 607 CPCs in 9 states found that only 5% directly offered prenatal care, while only 40% provided referrals for prenatal care. The same study found that only 26% and 16% of CPCs have a registered nurse or physician on staff, respectively, which underscores that individuals attending CPCs are not receiving medical care, and potentially dangerous diagnoses such as ectopic pregnancy may be missed.
The danger of CPCs missing ectopic pregnancies is very real: A Massachusetts woman is suing a CPC after her ectopic pregnancy ruptured, requiring emergency surgery.
Unless Paxton can prove that Texas CPCs are different across the board—for instance, that they have licensed medical professionals on-site—it is truthful to say that they “typically provide limited medical services and may not have licensed medical professionals on-site.”
Paxton’s lawsuit against Yelp alleges that the “company violated Texas’s Deceptive Trade Practices Act by appending inaccurate and misleading language to listings on pregnancy resource centers appearing in the search results on Yelp’s app and website.” It seeks penalties that “could exceed” $1 million.
Yelp’s countersuit argues, “This threat targets truthful speech fully protected by the First Amendment, which Yelp months ago replaced with a notice that even the Attorney General admits is ‘accurate.’” It cites reports of consumers being misled by Yelp listings, and details an investigation into the issue, which uncovered:
A 2014 study at the University of North Carolina found, for example, that 80 percent of CPC websites provided at least one false or misleading piece of information. A 2018 study by researchers at the University of Georgia and Emory University found that 58 percent of Georgia CPC websites failed to inform visitors that the centers do not provide abortions or refer patients to facilities that offer abortions. And in 2019, researchers at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and University of California at San Francisco found that many CPCs operate in “bad faith” by “employ[ing] sophisticated strategies to draw in women who are seeking abortion services,” only for these women “to find that they neither provide abortion nor refer to abortion providers.”
Yelp did change the notice when Paxton originally complained, despite the fact that the notice was truthful. But Paxton is still suing because the point is not to protect consumers or ensure factual information about CPCs—quite the reverse. Paxton is, like many Republicans, seeking to boost CPCs.
It’s a move that shows how little Republicans care about women’s health or proper prenatal care. CPCs don’t provide health care or prenatal care (or even necessarily referrals to prenatal care, for heaven’s sake). They exist to talk people out of having abortions. Republican state lawmakers are heavily promoting CPCs, with 12 states passing at least $250 million in funding or tax credits for CPCs this year.
Paxton’s lawsuit against Yelp for offering accurate information is part of that broader effort to eliminate clinics that provide real health care, and to boost anti-abortion messaging centers that do not.
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