The quote “Reminder: It’s not too late to make a good decision,” appears in a simple graphic design format on the Instagram page of the Women’s Center in Chicago, one of four flagship fake clinics in the city.
Fake clinics, often labeled as crisis pregnancy centers, thrive off state funding and individual donations through structured marketing to confuse abortion seekers. The basis of fake clinics is to push coercion for vulnerable populations—low-income people, women of color, and disabled people who already face a lack of access to abortion services as more legislation is passed limiting care.
Although there are many fake clinics around the greater Chicagoland area, there are four key fake clinics that dissuade abortion seekers in the city: Aid for Women, Caris Pregnancy Counseling and Resources, Southside Women’s Services and the Women’s Center.
Each is registered as a 501(c)(3) non-profit and does not have to pay federal income taxes.
Through carefully curated social media content, colorful Instagram highlights, and relatable memes, fake clinics in the Chicago area work tirelessly to maintain relevancy. They disguise themselves as women’s health centers offering pregnancy options.
This isn’t just a Chicago or Midwest issue. Rachel Fey, the vice president of policy and strategic partnerships at Power to Decide, said fake clinics across the country work to violate medical ethics, delay care, and promote misinformation.
“When people find themselves in these clinics, they are traumatizing,” Fey said. “They are often given ultrasounds and limited care that does not equate to giving someone both the information, and ultimately the access to, whatever care they choose.”
She explained the “gold standard” for those seeking abortion care is non-directive counseling that explains their three options: termination, adoption, or carrying to term. This care is not given at fake clinics, and abortion, while discussed, is merely a far-away option.
Words like “options,” “empowering,” “control,” and “freedom” are plastered on each of the four fake clinic websites. Abortion seekers across the country have been tricked by fake clinics, Julie Uhal, the SAFE Abortion Expansion Coordinator for Planned Parenthood Illinois explained.
“CPCs are places where they feed people completely false and purposefully inflammatory and frightening lies about abortion care,” she said. “The reality is, if the services you are providing are based in deception and fear-mongering to dissuade someone from making a certain choice, that’s not healthcare, that’s coercion.”
Fake clinics also delay care at a time when abortion restrictions are becoming tighter. When care is delayed, it is more likely an abortion seeker will either have to travel for care, if accessible, or be forced to carry to term.
Uhal said that Planned Parenthood Illinois Action consistently sees abortion seekers who had mistakenly gone to a fake clinic before finding Planned Parenthood. Fake clinics also don’t have to follow HIPAA regulations, meaning they can share the details of a person’s visits with their parents or partner.
“It is really traumatic for patients to go somewhere thinking they’re going to receive comprehensive pregnancy counseling and be met with shame and judgment instead,” she said.
Fake clinics have a history of moving next door to Planned Parenthood, and that’s what happened in Aurora, Illinois. Uhal shared that in Aurora, a fake clinic attempted to put their entrance as close to the Planned Parenthood entrance as possible, even going as far as connecting their driveways.
Aid for Women
In the loop lies Aid for Women, which, according to its website, works to “empower women to choose life.” They offer pregnancy tests and ultrasounds at no charge, often encouraging low-income abortion seekers to be taken advantage of when seeking free care. They have a total of five locations in Illinois.
Their Instagram shows their anti-birth-control stance with an image of birth control options with a red cross-through them. “Stop relying on chemicals and gadgets and start listening to your body – our nurses are here to help you on a journey to natural womanhood,” the post reads.
In 2020, Aid for Women made $1,655,929 in total revenue, and Susan Barrett, the executive director, was compensated $63,774 last year.
Robert Gillian, the president of Aid for Women, is also the executive director for the Catholic Conference of Illinois. He has been vocal on social media against the repeal of the Parental Notification Act in Illinois and cannabis legalization.
Many reviews warn abortion seekers that Aid for Women will not be helpful in assessing their pregnancy choices. Comments like “this is not a real health care clinic” or “this is a crisis pregnancy center” are each met with responses from Aid for Women assuring the user their comment is false.
Caris Pregnancy Counseling and Resources
With one location in the Loop and a second opening on the South Side, Caris Pregnancy Counseling and Resources maintains a bit more veiling than other fake clinics do. They claim they won’t force you to make any choice you don’t want to.
Their website reads, “Caris does not coerce women into making decisions regarding their pregnancies or any other decision that they might be facing.” Yet their marketing only covers so much of their religious agenda.
Another page on their website reads, “Where women are empowered with the support and resources, they need to continue their pregnancy and where abortions are significantly reduced as a result.”
They provide statistics about abortions for possible donors but do not have a go-to page for abortion on their website. There is a form you can fill out if you are thinking of getting an abortion that reads, “You probably have a lot of questions, and may even have some fears or reservations about it,” implying that abortion must be a fear and shame-inducing event.
In 2019 they had total revenue of $762,891. Monique Schlichtman, the executive director, was compensated $100,170 that year.
Similar reviews were left for Caris warning patients of their “pro-life agenda” and that “they tell lies here,” with a representative from Caris responding to most negative reviews. In response to one comment, Caris defined itself as “a faith-based, nonprofit counseling agency. We are not a medical facility or a crisis pregnancy center.”
Southside Women’s Services
Southside Women’s Services serves the Southside of Chicago and the Southwest suburbs. They are “pro-woman” and explain this on their website:
The unknown is scary. Thinking about finances and current responsibilities can be overwhelming. Wondering what will happen to your goals can leave you feeling so full of anxiety. And then if you throw the guy situation in the mix—forget about it.
They offer the same services as other fake clinics but state that they will also provide abortion seekers with medical and surgical abortion information, including procedures, a health checklist, and methods. A small message at the bottom of the page assures readers that they do not offer abortions.
After a theme of negative reviews, Kathy Bozyk, the former executive director of Southside Pregnancy Center and current liaison, crafted a response about the “extremely inaccurate” information left by reviewers. One reviewer claimed that if you have a confirmed pregnancy, they hand you a plastic baby to mimic however many weeks the fetus may be at. Another reviewer said after a pregnancy test, she received booties for a baby, a rubber duck, a photo album, and a baby blanket.
Southside Women’s Services had total revenue of $582,006 in 2020, with Bozyk being compensated $59,864. Bozyk also is an avid supporter of Illinois Right to Life, as she left a personal testimonial on their page in 2016 as well as being the leader for the Vision 2020 Cook County team, a pro-life alliance for the state.
Bozyk was featured in a podcast with Illinois Family Action to oppose the Parental Notification Act and the REACH Act, and to support the Ultrasound Opportunity Act.
On the podcast, Bozyk discussed that young women are naive and have “low mental capacity” and limited “critical thinking skills” when it comes to deciding if they should have an abortion.
The Women’s Center
The Women’s Center claims they have saved “40,000 moms and babies from the tragedy of abortion since 1984.” They add, “Once they review all options and consequences, they identify resources that will help eliminate barriers that stand in the way of choosing life.” They have three locations in Illinois.
They offer common services that fake clinics do but with the addition of crisis intervention counseling, “sexual integrity education,” and “post-abortion counseling to heal a previous loss.”
Kelly Conmey, the president of the Women’s Center was compensated $70,000 dollars in 2020 while the organization made $1,012,357 in total revenue. Dr. Robert C Lawler, the medical director of the Women’s Center is also an OB/GYN for Yorktown Health in Lombard, Illinois.
Dr. Lawler is a member of the American Association of Pro-life Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the Catholic Medical Association and claims he only practices health care for women who follow “ethical and religious directives of the Roman Catholic Faith.”
He also wrote an op-ed for the Chicago Sun-Times against the repeal of the Parental Notification Act and was on the Tucker Carlson show in 2017 explaining his antichoice beliefs.
Reviews from abortion seekers share how they were told inaccurate information, such as that having an abortion will lead to uterus damage and the inability to have future children. A representative responded to negative views claiming that they are “attempting to educate abortion seekers about the truth behind their medical decisions.”
Dispelling Fake Clinic Myths
Many fake clinics, including those in Chicago, claim that their tests are lab quality and 99 percent accurate. Dr. Andrea Swartzendruber, an associate professor of epidemiology and biostatistics and creator of the Crisis Pregnancy Center Map, said this tactic, designed to confuse abortion seekers who feel they have no other options, is very common.
“The degree to which people are choosing to go to CPCs is because they think they have better pregnancy tests,” she said. “CPCs use a urine-based test that has no difference in quality whether you get them at the dollar store or CVS. But CPCs advertise the tests as medical grade and lab-certified.”
Dr. Swartzendruber found that abortion seekers were confused by the language fake clinics use, and then have been tricked into anti-choice counseling and coercion, during her research to create a CPC map.
Dr. Swartzendruber began her research first looking at Georgia. In 2020, Georgia governor Brian Kemp promoted “Choose Life” license plates, from which a portion of the special tag fee will fund nonprofits like Choose Life Georgia, better known as fake clinics.
As Dr. Swartzendruber explored the antichoice realm, she realized that the problem of fake clinics is deeply embedded in US culture. She wanted to know how many there were, and that is where she came up with the idea for her CPC map. As she worked, she noticed how the culture of fake clinics is even in technology.
When she used her iPhone to look up the closest place to get birth control in Athens, Georgia, two fake clinics appear on her screen, one of them twenty-two miles away, when the county health department, which provides birth control, is within one mile of her office.
Dr. Swartzendruber, students, and other institutions that helped with the map have all done so on a volunteer basis. She has struggled to find any funding for her project. She carries on with her work because she believes it is important for people to choose where they want to go and know the true beliefs behind establishments.
According to Swartzendruber’s map, there are twenty fake clinics within twenty-five miles of Chicago, with Aid for Women, Caris Pregnancy Resources, Southside Women’s Services, and the Women’s Center each being listed.
To learn more about fake clinics in your area, check out the Crisis Pregnancy Center Map created by Dr. Swartzendruber.