Following the Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade this June, abortion access has remained at the forefront of both local community discourse and nationwide topical concern, sparking widespread controversy amongst Rhode Island residents.
While there are currently two in-person providers that offer surgical abortion services within the state, The Womxn Project — an activist organization advocating for reproductive justice — has reported 11 “Crisis Pregnancy Centers.” These centers allegedly falsely pose as abortion-providing medical clinics to pressure individuals to carry their pregnancies to full term, said Jocelyn Foye, executive director of The Womxn Project.
“They prey on people who are vulnerable, and we all are when we first find out we’re pregnant,” Foye said.
Foye said that such centers are pushing people beyond the legal limit of when one can get an abortion, conducting misleading medical examinations and employing anti-abortion guilt tactics when serving patients.
With CPCs located throughout the state of Rhode Island, organizations such as The Womxn Project are working to counteract the presence and alleged harmful practices of these clinics.
“This fight is not new,” Foye said. “This fight has been something that has been in existence for a while and, with … the Dobbs decision, many more of these … spaces are starting to pop up.”
Gretchen Raffa, vice president of public policy, advocacy and organizing for Planned Parenthood of Southern New England — one of the only two abortion providers in the state — expressed concerns over misinformation and medical misguidance in an email to The Herald.
CPCs advertise themselves as offering services such as abortion, emergency contraception and counseling, when at their core they are “morally opposed” to such resources and will not provide them, Raffa explained.
Additionally, Raffa and Foye explained that CPCs often lack medically trained staff or licensed professionals, rendering them illegitimate as medical clinics. Raffa cited a 2006 report written for U.S. House Representative Henry Waxman, a Democrat from California, where researchers found that 87% of CPCs contacted provided false or misleading information about the health impacts of receiving an abortion.
“Through their deceptive advertising practices, anti-abortion CPCs are public health dangers, as they disrupt access to time-sensitive reproductive health care,” Raffa explained. “Not all of these centers advertise in false and misleading ways, … but those who try to mislead people may cause serious harm.”
But some Rhode Island CPCs say these allegations are untrue.
Gail Faraj-Musleh, executive director of the Mother of Life Pregnancy Center — one of the clinics specifically called out by The Womxn Project — emphasized that her organization solely aims to uplift pregnant community members facing difficult circumstances, offering resources to those from marginalized backgrounds.
“I do have a passion for life, and I have a passion for women who have not had the opportunities that I’ve had in life,” Faraj-Musleh said. “I really wanted to support them in their walk, in their raising families and in their very difficult relationships.”
According to Faraj-Musleh, the Mother of Life Pregnancy Center provides ultrasounds, STD testing information, counseling, parenting classes, car seats and additional resources for individuals in times of need, regardless of religious affiliation or insurance coverage. Through these services, she believes that her organization empowers community members to recognize and utilize skills that they may not have used in the past, offering them the tools and support to guide them in raising their potential families.
Faraj-Musleh stressed the importance of choice in making decisions surrounding abortion, asserting that Mother of Life merely serves to offer options without methods of coercion.
“There are three (choices). It’s to carry and parent, to abort and to adopt,” she said. “Abortion should not be the default. It's a choice. So is parenting, and that’s what we’re helping to do here.”
YG Nyghtstorm, a Mother of Life security professional and former U.S. congressional candidate, agreed with Faraj-Musleh’s statement, emphasizing the “pro-choice” nature of the center. He believes that CPCs provide a social service to Rhode Island’s most vulnerable communities, offering a safe haven to those with nowhere else to turn.
In addressing allegations of untrained medical staff and unlicensed professionals at the clinic, Faraj-Musleh defended the legitimacy of her center’s practices, stating that Mother of Life consistently renews its annual certification to perform pregnancy tests and examinations through the Rhode Island Department of Health.
“We have to be under the care of a medical director in order to perform a sonogram. The sonogram has to be done by someone who is trained, and she has her active license through the state of Rhode Island,” said Faraj-Musleh, adding that Mother of Life’s medical providers are “fully trained” with “35-plus” years of experience.
Foye pointed out that low-income residents are most at risk for CPC “propaganda,” as such spaces take advantage of these populations during a “confusing time” in their lives.
The Womxn Project has worked to alter search engine optimization and misleading reviews of CPCs on Google, hoping to reduce their online pop-ups and search engine priority, Foye explained. In-person rallies, demonstrations and social media advocacy have also played a role in The Womxn Project’s campaign, as Foye aims to attract as much attention as possible to the ongoing issue, she said.
Raffa added that Planned Parenthood is grateful for the public activism already taking place, emphasizing the importance of breaking down unnecessary barriers for pregnant individuals.
“To combat stigma and misinformation, we must continue to educate the public with accurate, non-judgmental information,” Raffa said. “Everyone deserves the freedom, autonomy and medically accurate information necessary to make informed decisions about their bodies, lives and futures.”