Watchdog asks for investigations of crisis pregnancy centers’ practices in five states

April 23, 2024

A watchdog group filed complaints with five state attorneys general on Tuesday, alleging that two of the country’s largest crisis pregnancy center organizations are deceiving patients about their privacy rights.

The Campaign for Accountability (CFA) complaints claim that Heartbeat International and Care Net crisis pregnancy centers tell patients their private health information is protected by federal privacy law, even though the organizations claim they are not bound to follow the statute.

“Tricking consumers into believing their sensitive health information will be kept confidential by claiming it is HIPAA covered when it is not, isn’t just despicable, it’s deceptive and likely violates state consumer protection laws prohibiting deceptive marketing,” CFA Executive Director Michelle Kuppersmith said in a statement.

“Attorneys general should not hesitate to take on those who prey on women with disingenuous claims of confidentiality.”

The group filed complaints in Idaho, Minnesota, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Washington. They argued that the centers put patients at risk as some states move to criminalize access to abortion procedures.

“No one should have to worry about their personal health information falling into the hands of anyone who might seek to use that information against them,” Kuppersmith said. “Consumers have the right to know exactly how their sensitive data will be used before they share it.”

The complaints do not allege that the crisis pregnancy center groups misuse private medical data, but do call on the attorneys general to investigate how the groups are using the data.

While most crisis pregnancy centers offer counseling and basic medical assistance to pregnant women, including ultrasounds, others give misleading information in an effort to discourage abortion procedures, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

“Staff members at these unregulated and often nonmedical facilities have no legal obligation to provide pregnant people with accurate information and are not subject to HIPAA or required by law to maintain client confidentiality,” the group wrote. “Many CPCs are affiliated with national organizations that provide funding, support, and training to advance a broadscale antiabortion agenda.”

The centers have increasingly been at the center of legal and political fights, especially since the Supreme Court’s 2022 Dobbs ruling which radically changed abortion access nationwide, with anti-abortion rights groups backing the centers as an alternative to maternal health facilities that offer abortion care.

The Hill has reached out to Heartbeat International and Care Net for comment.