A Massachusetts woman is suing a crisis pregnancy center after it failed to inform her that her pregnancy was ectopic, a potentially life-threatening condition. The ectopic pregnancy ultimately ruptured, forcing doctors to perform emergency surgery and stop her hemorrhaging by removing one of her fallopian tubes. It’s an extreme case, but one that highlights the deception at the heart of what crisis pregnancy centers do.
The class action lawsuit filed on behalf of Jane Doe details how the alleged medical care she received from the Clearway Clinic fell short of legal standards of care, leading to the missed diagnosis and medical crisis. According to a press release from Reproductive Equity Now, the woman had sought an ultrasound when she suspected she was pregnant. Clearway’s website claimed the CPC would offer care at a state-licensed medical clinic with board-certified doctors and nurses. Instead, while she was given paperwork indicating she’d been seen by a doctor, she was given an ultrasound by a nurse who the legal complaint alleges was “not licensed to diagnose viable pregnancies.” That nurse told her the pregnancy was viable—which was false.
The patient later suffered shooting pains and lightheadedness. When she reached the hospital, she was diagnosed with a ruptured ectopic pregnancy and internal hemorrhaging, forcing the emergency surgery. All of that was avoidable if she had gotten legitimate and honest medical care when she first sought an ultrasound.
It’s not clear based on the information publicly available at this point whether the nurse who told Doe that her pregnancy was viable lied out of extreme anti-abortion sentiment (even though ectopic pregnancies are never viable) or simply missed the diagnosis because she wasn’t qualified to provide the care Clearway had advertised. Either way, the business model of crisis pregnancy centers is responsible here: They lure unsuspecting people in by pretending to offer medical care rather than anti-abortion propaganda. They lie about their intentions and their qualifications. It’s unacceptable whether the result of the deception is a woman facing a life-threatening emergency or a woman trapped into continuing an unwanted pregnancy because what she thought was a legitimate clinic lied to her about her options.
“Clearway’s actions are not only illegal, but abhorrent,” Shannon Liss-Riordan, the attorney for the plaintiff, said in a statement. “Our client was forced to undergo a traumatic, dangerous, and completely avoidable emergency surgery to save her life because she was deceived into going to an anti-abortion clinic instead of an appropriate healthcare provider. At every step of the way she was led to believe she was receiving appropriate medical care when in fact she was subject to a campaign of misinformation and unfair and deceptive practices. Through this case we intend to hold Clearway accountable and put other so-called crisis pregnancy centers on notice.”
Liss-Riordan, a high-profile lawyer who has won a series of victories against businesses that misclassify workers as independent contractors or engage in wage theft, has filed this as a class action lawsuit that could be joined by other people who say they’ve been deceived by Clearway.
In Massachusetts, where this lawsuit is being filed, a few cities and towns have passed ordinances fining crisis pregnancy centers if they’re caught in false or deceptive practices. Other local governments have considered such ordinances and backed off of them out of fear of First Amendment lawsuits. A crisis pregnancy center filed such a constitutional challenge to a Connecticut law banning deception by CPCs, and though it ultimately dropped the suit, small local governments may be intimidated by the potential for costly litigation.
During her time as state attorney general, Massachusetts Gov. Maura Healey issued a warning about deceptive practices by CPCs, and Healey and the state legislature have passed funding for a $1 million campaign educating the public about deceptive practices by CPCs. The education—and more aggressive action—are sorely needed in Massachusetts, where CPCs outnumber abortion clinics 3 to 1.