April 23, 2024 News

Watchdog Group Asks Pennsylvania Attorney General to Investigate Crisis Pregnancy Center for Deceptive Practices


Contact: Michael Clauw, mclauw@campaignforaccountability.org, 202.780.5750

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Campaign for Accountability (CfA), a non-profit watchdog group, filed a complaint with Pennsylvania Attorney General Michelle Henry requesting an investigation into whether Options Women’s Center (OWC), an anti-choice ministry, has violated the Pennsylvania Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law and a prohibition on intentional misrepresentation by falsely claiming consumers’ sensitive healthcare information is protected by the Health Insurance Portability and Protection Accountability Act (HIPAA). The letter is one of five complaints CfA has sent alleging violations by so-called “crisis pregnancy centers” (CPCs) across the country, highlighting similar abuses in Idaho, New Jersey, Minnesota, and Washington.

CfA Executive Director Michelle Kuppersmith said, “Options Women’s Center should not be permitted to deceive consumers into sharing their personal health information by falsely suggesting the confidentiality of their data is protected by federal law. The attorney general should rein in this reprehensible practice.”

Read CfA’s Complaint.

OWC, located in Scranton, Pennsylvania, is part of a network of thousands of CPCs affiliated with Care Net and Heartbeat International—multi-million-dollar organizations that intentionally target women searching for legitimate abortion care providers to “save babies” from abortion. It is not licensed or regulated by the state’s Department of Health, nor does it list any medical staff on its website.

Nevertheless, OWC presents itself as a traditional medical clinic, featuring images of medical equipment and professionals wearing medical attire on its website. Further, OWC’s online “Request an Appointment” form asserts clients’ personal health information is protected under HIPAA.

Although HIPAA is relatively narrow in protecting the electronic transmission of health information for the purpose of medical billing, it has become consumer shorthand for confidentiality of medical data. OWC appears to exploit this misconception, not only by claiming consumers’ data is covered by HIPAA, but also by instructing clients who believe their data has been misused that they are entitled to file a complaint with the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)—even though HHS has no regulatory authority over Today’s Choice.

It is also unclear whether and to what extent OWC shares the data it collects. Other inquiries into how CPCs use the data they collect have been stymied. For instance, despite pledging to respond to a letter from several senators requesting information about its data practices, Heartbeat International, through counsel, declined to explain how and with whom it shares data.

CfA’s complaint alleges OWC’s false pledges of confidentiality violate Pennsylvania’s consumer protection statute as well as state law prohibiting intentional misrepresentation.

Ms. Kuppersmith continued, “Tricking women 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 in a way that likely violates the law. Attorney General Henry should not hesitate to take on those who prey on women with disingenuous claims of confidentiality.”

Campaign for Accountability is a nonpartisan, nonprofit watchdog organization that uses research, litigation, and aggressive communications to expose misconduct and malfeasance in public life and hold those who act at the expense of the public good accountable for their actions.