Yesterday, Americans United joined allies in urging the U.S. Supreme Court to ensure that misleading “crisis pregnancy centers” in California can’t use religiously motivated, deceptive tactics to trick women into believing they’re receiving comprehensive medical care.

The National Institute of Family Life Advocates (NIFLA) and other fake women’s health centers in California are part of a national network of well-funded (and in some cases, taxpayer-funded) organizations with a religion-based, anti-choice mission to prevent pregnant women from having abortions. These organizations have the right to pursue their religious mission – but they don’t have a right to lie to women about the services they provide or the range of health care options available to pregnant women.

Religious freedom is about fairness. It is unfair – and potentially life threatening – to deceive women and teenagers, lie about medical facts or delay access to critical, time-sensitive prenatal and reproductive care.

In a friend-of-the-court brief filed Tuesday in the Supreme Court, AU joined the National Women’s Law Center, the Center for Reproductive Rights and nearly 50 other civil rights organizations in detailing the harrowing stories of women and teenagers whose health and welfare were harmed or put at risk by the deceptive practices of these fake health centers. The stories include:

  • Sarah was a high school student whose life was placed at risk and whose future fertility was potentially compromised after a fake health center incorrectly told Sarah and her mother that she wasn’t pregnant. The center conducted an ultrasound, but the staff at these centers often aren’t trained to evaluate and diagnose patients. It wasn’t until Sarah began suffering severe abdominal pain and was rushed to a Missouri emergency room that she learned she had an ectopic pregnancy (a pregnancy that occurs outside the uterus). Her fallopian tube ruptured and she had to undergo invasive surgery – both of which would not have happened if Sarah had received proper care from the beginning.
  • Dartricia went to a fake health center in Georgia, believing it was a medical office, to confirm a wanted pregnancy. Center staff chastised her for being unmarried and not attending church. The staff administered an ultrasound and falsely told her she was due a month later than she actually was. Staff did not provide her with any prenatal care resources and continued to urge Dartricia and her boyfriend to marry.
  • Sharon, a Texas resident, went to a fake health center thinking that it was a medical center that would provide a pregnancy test and information about abortion. Following an ultrasound, center staff told Sharon she was too far along for an abortion and made her watch a religious video. Sharon then went to a medical clinic and learned she was still legally able to get an abortion.
  • Annie, a Florida high school student in need of a pregnancy test, mistook a fake health center for a nearby Planned Parenthood clinic. A staff member shamed Annie for having sex and told her that considering an abortion wasn’t “very Christian of her.” Annie’s pregnancy test was negative. When she then asked about birth control, the staff lied and told her that it causes cancer. The staff also said they planned to notify Annie’s parents and her school about the visit.
  • Betty wanted an abortion but was strung along by a fake health center in Connecticut for several months. When she then went to an emergency room, a doctor performed an ultrasound and determined that Betty had been misled by the center long enough that she was past the legal limit for an abortion and had no choice but to continue the pregnancy.

In 2015, California took action to ensure that women can make informed, timely decisions about their health care. The state passed the Reproductive Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care, and Transparency (FACT) Act, which ensures that so-called crisis pregnancy centers post signs notifying patients that information about state-funded reproductive health care – including prenatal care, family planning and abortions – is available from the county health department. Unlicensed pregnancy centers are required to post signs saying that they aren’t licensed medical facilities.

The fake women’s health centers sued, claiming that just posting a sign stating truthful information violates their First Amendment rights. A U.S. District Court and the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals both rejected the centers’ arguments. Now the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear arguments in the case, NIFLA v. Becerra, on March 20.

AU is joining our allies to ensure that the needs of patients always come first. Pregnancy-related decisions are time sensitive. Women need timely, nonjudgmental, professional information about the full range of options for their reproductive health care. Religious freedom is fundamental, but so is the right of patients to get the health care they need.

Religious freedom is about fairness. It is unfair – and potentially life threatening – to deceive women and teenagers, lie about medical facts or delay access to critical, time-sensitive prenatal and reproductive care.