Lizz Winstead on the new SCOTUS case taking on Crisis Pregnancy Centers

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On Tuesday, the Supreme Court heard the first oral arguments in NIFLA v. Becerra, a case about Crisis Pregnancy Centers (CPCs). In 2015, the state of California passed the FACT Act, which required any clinic that provided pregnancy-related services (like ultrasounds, pregnancy tests, etc.) to also post factual information about abortion and contraception options. NIFLA, a network of Crisis Pregnancy Centers — which are essentially fake clinics designed to lure in women seeking abortions and dissuade them from having them — is arguing in this case that the FACT Act violates their right to free speech.

Lizz Winstead, co-founder of the reproductive rights organization Lady Parts Justice, organized a rally in DC for this case on Tuesday. She told the FBomb about why this case is important and what we can all do to help.

The FBomb: Can you explain why NIFLA vs. Becerra is such an important case for reproductive rights activists to care about? 

Lizz Winstead: You shouldn’t be able to legally lie to people. You shouldn't be able to dress up like a doctor if you’re not one and tell people lies and false information at a fake clinic. The FACT Act says if you say you are a medical clinic, then you should actually have to give honest and real information about all of the options somebody has if they go to you seeking questions about their pregnancy. I do not believe that the Constitution says that you can pretend to be a doctor and lie to people about their healthcare.

At the rally, you shared your own experience with a crisis pregnancy center. Can you tell us a little about what that was like?

When I was seventeen, I found out that I was pregnant. That was back in the day — the bad old days before there were home pregnancy tests. If you were a teenager and you were scared and found out you were pregnant, the only way to get it verified was to go to a doctor. I was brought up Catholic, so I couldn’t go to our family doctor. I didn’t know where to go, I didn’t know what Planned Parenthood was, I’d never even had a pap smear at that point. I found an ad on a bus that said, “Pregnant, scared? We have free tests, free choices, options.” That said to me, you’re going to offer me options at a low cost, so I went there.

I ended up at a place that was not a clinic at all. It was run by people who had an agenda, and that agenda was to shame me for being a sexual person. When I asked about abortion, the woman [working there], who was wearing a lab coat, showed me a book. She showed me a [picture of a] baby, then she turned the page to a picture of a fetus in bloody parts. She said, "If you get an abortion, this is what you’re doing to your baby." I was so freaked out.

Then she said, "I can’t believe you would ask about abortion because abortion is against our law." Think about that: It was 1979 and she said ‘abortion is against our law.’ She was putting it into the meta, knowing that she’s deceiving me, into thinking I’m breaking the law. I said, "I think that’s what I want. I’m just not ready to have kids, I’m really scared, and I don’t want to do it." She was hearing none of it. She actually said to me, ‘your options are mommy or murder.’

These places purport to be facilities that provide care and literally go so far as to dress up [their staff] as doctors and terrify and terrorize young people. The ad didn’t say ‘come in for Christian guidance, we’ll help you through your pregnancy.’ If the ad had said that, I would’ve gone to the yellow pages and looked up where I could get an abortion. The ad led me to believe that I could get what I needed there and when I got there all I got was shame, stigma, and lies about what would happen to me if I had an abortion. They also told me that I would never be able to have kids again [if I got an abortion], that I could get cancer, no one would ever have sex with me again, that I couldn’t probably get married, and [abortion] would make me mentally ill.

What can people do to help support this case and push back against CPCs?

At Exposefakeclinics.com, we have laid out a plan that talks about these fake health centers. Here’s the truth: we've identified 2700 of them that are currently out there, unlicensed, doing this horrible conniving work. We shouldn’t be able to lie to people, especially when they’re at their most vulnerable point, when time is of the essence, and they’re trying to make the best decision for themselves. [The CPC I went to] never asked me about what my life was like or how it would change if I had a child. They didn’t know my relationship situation. They knew nothing. They didn’t care.

What other reproductive rights-related issues/threats are currently on Lady Parts Justice's radar?

Every day, laws that erode access to birth control and abortion are passed based on ideology, not science. There are laws that give your boss the option to decide if your reason for wanting birth control coverage in your insurance plan passes their morality test. Many states are trying to force clinics to bury or cremate every fetus from an abortion or a miscarriage. And states have just said "fuck it" to the constitution and are now creating abortion restrictions that brazenly violate the constitutional right to an abortion solidified in Roe v. Wade. 

But for me, the biggest problem is the politicians who claim they care about access to abortion, who are supposed allies, but call abortion a "wedge issue," or tell us that focusing on abortion access loses us elections. 

Let me be clear: To the Democrats who propose that defending my full humanity and autonomy is losing elections, I say, "How dare you suggest a person's body should be compromised by politicians." Oh, and FYI, I see every one of you and will fight like hell to make sure your political career will be compromised if selling out reproductive health, rights, and justice is part of your political platform.  

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Julie Zeilinger
Founding Editor of The WMC FBomb
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