Somerville City Council bans crisis pregnancy centers

Somerville City Hall is pictured on March 12, 2021. Nicole Garay / The Tufts Daily
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The Somerville City Council passed an ordinance on March 24 banning crisis pregnancy centers, defining them as deceptive, limited services pregnancy centers that do not directly provide or refer clients for abortions or emergency contraception.

The ordinance was championed by Somerville City Councilor-at-Large Kristen Strezo and co-sponsored by the entire city council. Failure to comply with the ordinance may result in a fine of $300.

“I’m really upset that I still have to fight as hard as I do for reproductive justice and abortion access,” Strezo said. “We know that — in many cases — [CPCs’] intent is disingenuous, and they often will withhold critical information about pregnancy [and] about abortion. In my capacity as a city councilor, we have to make sure that … accurate information is getting out there.”

Not only is the ordinance the first of its kind in Massachusetts, but it is also unprecedented in Somerville. 

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“[Somerville is] known for being trendsetters and really taking on issues that many municipalities sometimes are afraid of,” Strezo said. “I’m grateful to say this is another first for Somerville and Massachusetts.”

Strezo said people have urged the protection of those seeking medical care for decades. 

“I feel a lot more comfortable knowing that our residents in Somerville and Tufts students have the correct medical information and won’t … have to deal with deceptive or misleading and manipulative language that crisis pregnancy centers are known to distribute,” Strezo said.

The ban is proactive as Somerville is not home to any practices that fit into the CPC description.

“While Somerville does not currently have any CPCs, in Massachusetts, these anti-abortion fake women’s health clinics outnumber legitimate reproductive care providers three to one,” Taylor St. Germain, communications director of Reproductive Equity Now, wrote in an email to the Daily. “That’s why clear and accurate information about where people can access legitimate abortion care is so important.”

St. Germain said that this ordinance should serve as a model for cities across the country that wish to expand real, informed access to reproductive healthcare.

“People facing an unintended pregnancy deserve compassionate, medically-accurate care,” St. Germain wrote. “Crisis pregnancy centers use deceptive advertising to deceive pregnant people of all ages — including college students — that they provide abortion care, when in reality, many do not even have doctors on staff to discuss the full range of health care options with clients.”

Leah Cohen, community director of the Reproductive Freedom Fund of New Hampshire, spoke of her experience educating people about the harms of CPCs in New Hampshire.

“We have seen reports of patients being verbally berated by CPC workers, told that they are going to hell for seeking abortion care, and being fed disinformation about abortion care like falsified data about adverse health outcomes from abortion care,” Cohen, a junior, wrote in an email to the Daily.

Cohen discussed the severity of misinformation spread by CPCs.

“Sometimes, that disinformation even crosses into outright dangerous delivery of care, like the dispensation of the dangerous and ineffective ‘abortion reversal pill’ — which is basically just a massive dose of progesterone that has led to severe bleeding and hospitalization of patients,” she wrote.

Cohen stressed the need for communities in medium-to-high reproductive healthcare areas to take proactive steps against anti-abortion work. 

“CPCs quite frankly should not exist — we need real resources for pregnant patients who decide, with full information and informed consent, to continue their pregnancies, but those resources should be easily accessible, without shame or stigma, and [with] no strings attached,” Cohen wrote. “CPCs are not always a focal point of pro-abortion organizing, mainly because so much of the work of reproductive justice is defensive in a hostile environment and because so few people know about the dangers and pervasive harm of CPCs.”

Strezo emphasized how bringing attention to this ordinance can empower people. 

“I think a lot of people across the nation feel helpless, like there aren’t a lot of active steps happening, but there are,” Strezo said. “I also want to just convey that we have a lot of power to really take active steps to protect reproductive justice.”

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