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Are Crisis Pregnancy Centers in Pennsylvania Exploiting the Personal Data of Prospective Clients?

The Women’s Law Project supports Campaign for Accountability’s request that PA Attorney General Michelle Henry investigate personal data collection practices by these anti-abortion centers.
Roe v Wade Supreme Court Reversal Protest: People show up in Solidarity for Pro-Choice Women, June 24, 2022. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

The Women’s Law Project expressed support for a public complaint filed by the Campaign for Accountability that urges the attorneys general of five states, including Pennsylvania, to initiate investigations into the privacy practices and data collection methods of anti-abortion “crisis pregnancy centers,” or CPCs.

The complaint alleges that Options Women’s Center, a crisis pregnancy center situated in Scranton, has been obtaining women’s sensitive personal and health information while providing deceitful information about its legal obligations regarding confidentiality.

WLP believes Pennsylvania Attorney General Michelle Henry should take action to protect Pennsylvanians and women from out-of-state seeking reproductive health care. 

READ: ‘Preconceived’ Documentary Uncovers the Reality Behind Anti-Abortion Crisis Pregnancy Centers

“Pennsylvania officials must investigate the health data collection and privacy practices of Options Women’s Center and its parent organizations, educate the public about CPC privacy practices, and take all necessary action to prevent CPCs from deceiving consumers about who is collecting their data, how it is being shared, and how it is being used,” WLP stated.

In addition to Pennsylvania, complaints were also filed in Idaho, Minnesota, New Jersey, and Washington.

Crisis pregnancy centers are anti-abortion organizations that focus on low-income adults and teenagers facing unintended pregnancies, as well as new parents with limited financial resources. Their objective is to discourage access to abortion and contraception.

“We echo the call for state officials to protect Pennsylvanians’ sensitive health data from being collected under misleading assurances of confidentiality,” said WLP Co-Executive Director Amal Bass. “We’re increasingly seeing CPC websites post jibberish privacy statements and sometimes invoking the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), even though CPCs are typically not medical providers and therefore not subject to HIPAA. But most people don’t know that, which is of course the point.”

READ: Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick Is A Loyal Soldier in the Crusade to End Reproductive Freedom and Ban Abortion 

The Women’s Law Project notes that “like many CPCs in Pennsylvania and across the country, Options Women’s Center is affiliated with anti-abortion CPC steering organizations Care Net and Heartbeat International. Heartbeat International develops what privacy experts call “data exploitation technologies” and collects “digital dossiers.”Technology and the internet have made the collection and transmission of personal data a simple process by using contact forms on websites.

Since the overturning of Roe v. Wade, nearly two dozen states have banned or limited access to abortion. With several states having imposed harsh penalties for traveling out of state to seek reproductive health care, the potential for sharing sensitive data provided by pregnant women with law enforcement agencies underscores how unsecured data can be weaponized.

CPC networks also increase the probability of personal data being shared with larger anti-choice organizations including Care Net and Heartbeat International, the latter of which has developed technologies to exploit such data by compiling “digital dossiers” about women who have provided a CPC with information. 

“We’re concerned for pregnant adults, but also about kids who unknowingly share their personal data with CPCs while looking for information online,” said Tara Murtha, Director of Strategic Communications at WLP. “The anti-abortion movement is very open about targeting children. According to their own privacy statements, CPCs collect invasive personal information on kids as young as 13 years old …. Where does their data go, how long is it stored, who is it shared with, and for what purpose?”

READ: Pennsylvania Supreme Court Opens Path To Striking Down Discriminatory Ban On Medicaid-Funded Abortions

Despite Governor Shapiro prohibiting future funding of CPCs with taxpayer dollars, WLP advised 156 pregnancy centers are known to be operating in Pennsylvania.

The Women’s Law Project is a nonprofit public interest legal organization working to defend and advance the rights of women, girls, and LGBTQ+ people in Pennsylvania and beyond.

Campaign for Accountability, established in 2015, conducts investigations, files complaints with government agencies, and advocates for accountability and transparency in public institutions.

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Picture of Jenny Stephens

Jenny Stephens

Jenny Stephens is a freelance journalist who has written for a variety of publications, including The Reporter. An avid collector of all things vintage, she resides in the Philadelphia area.

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