Crisis Pregnancy Centers (CPCs) adopt the look of medical practices — complete with workers in scrubs, ultrasound machines, and invasive physical exams — to deceive pregnant women into thinking they are being treated by licensed medical professionals. In reality, CPCs offer exclusively Bible-based, non-objective counseling. Numerous attempts to regulate CPCs have faced political roadblocks. Most recently, in NIFLA v. Becerra, the Supreme Court held that state efforts to require CPCs to disclose that they are not medically licensed are unconstitutional violations of CPCs’ First Amendment right to free speech. In the wake of that decision, pregnant women in crisis — a disproportionate percentage of whom are low-income women, minority women, or women in vulnerable or dangerous situations — continue to be subject to CPCs’ ideological marketing, masquerading as medical advice.
This Article employs tort law to offer a novel way to regulate CPCs’ deceptive practices. It proposes that women who submit to physical exams or ultrasounds under CPCs’ false pretenses could successfully raise a battery claim. The intimate touching of a woman would most certainly be considered objectively offensive, and while the woman might technically consent to the touching, this consent is meaningless if it is based on misrepresentations. Contrary to popular understanding, the touching need not be intentionally malicious or result in physical injury to the plaintiff.
This Article makes two contributions to the literature. First, it provides a practicable, novel solution to an urgent and timely issue. By relying on private causes of action, this Article’s proposal sidesteps the collective action problems and political willpower obstacles that have long hampered larger-scale attempts to regulate CPCs. It places the injured woman in the driver’s seat and allows her to be compensated for the dignitary harm imposed when CPCs use deception to gain access to her body. Second, this Article contributes to robust literatures in torts, informed consent, and medical ethics by reinforcing an increasingly blurry line between medicine and pseudo-medicine. Informed consent means something; it is not merely a vehicle through which ideology can be shoehorned. Where CPCs are not licensed, they should be sued for battery, which honors the individual’s dignity and is not deferential to an industry standard of care. Physicians should be allowed to have political voices. So, too, should pro-life activists. But each should have their policy debates, and win or lose them, in the political sphere. It does violence to the physician-patient relationship, and the trust that it requires, when this relationship is leveraged for ideological gains.
Brown, Teneille R., "Crisis at the Pregnancy Center: Regulating Pseudo-Clinics and Reclaiming Informed Consent" (2020). Utah Law Faculty Scholarship. 208.