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« Skeptics' Circle #38 The RantsSixth and Ninth »

Free Speech or Fraud?
2006.07.06 (Thu) 23:34

You know the Christian Scientists, right? They're those asinine fucks that often choose to forego modern medical treatments and instead treat their illnesses through prayer. In general, the poorly-named Christian Scientists (as they are about as far from being scientists as it's possible to be) don't try to force their beliefs on others who don't share their idiotic religion. But, for the sake of this discussion, let's say that a group of Christian Scientists decided to set up a business in your town called "The Emergency Medical Services Center." When they advertise their center, they don't mention that they are Christian Scientists, or that they don't believe in the practice of modern medicine — they just state that they perform "emergency medical services." Their goal, it seems, is to get others to believe as they do — that prayer works better than modern medicine when it comes to medical emergencies. As such, they claim that they are providing services for medical emergencies, and that prayer is the proper service to perform for such situations.

The problem is that there's a socially accepted definition of "emergency medical services" and it always includes the use of modern medicine. So, when ordinary people show up, badly injured from accidents, or seriously ill from sicknesses, in need of immediate medical assistance, only then do they find out that the "services" provided are limited to prayer. Bleeding internally? We'll pray for you. Arm severed by a chainsaw? We'll pray for you. Flesh-eating virus? We'll pray for you. Oh, wait, you want actual emergency medical services from our emergency medical services center? Sorry, no dice. You'll have to haul your critical-condition ass over to a real medical center. Hopefully you'll make it in time, and hopefully it isn't just another fake medical center like this one.

So the question is, does this form of clearly false and misleading advertising fall under the protection of free speech? Our answer: fuck, no. Regular readers of our site know that we are adamant supporters of all kinds of free speech. We'd ardently defend the right of a Nazi to spew the most vile forms of hate on a city corner, or the right of the KKK to march down the center of town in full dress uniform. However, when someone is intentionally misleading others in an attempt to force their own belief system on those other people, and doing so in a way that infringes on the rights, health, or life of those other people, that is not protected speech — it's criminal fraud.

Enough of our analogy — let's talk about what's actually going on in the real world.

Rep. Carolyn Maloney, a Democrat who represents parts of Manhattan and Queens, introduced legislation yesterday aimed at cracking down on so-called crisis pregnancy centers, which are operated by anti-abortion groups and encourage pregnant women to consider other options.

"It seems to me they're purposely trying to confuse people," Ms. Maloney told The New York Sun. "If you're a pro-life group, put out a banner that says, 'pro-life counseling.'"

Ms. Maloney said the counseling centers draw women in by using names and signs that are intended to cause confusion with Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers. "The centers do not provide abortion services. They only offer anti-choice coercion," she said. "Women I've talked to are just unbelievably shaken by it. One said they closed the door and wouldn't let her get out."

You know the far-right religious nuts, right? They're those asinine fucks that believe that abortion is never acceptable under any circumstances. In general, Evangelical Christians are constantly trying to force their beliefs on others who don't share their idiotic religion. In keeping with that theme, Evangelical Christians all over the country have decided to set up these businesses. When they advertise their centers, they don't mention that they are Evangelical Christians, or that they don't believe in the practice of abortion — they just state that they perform "abortion services." Their goal, it seems, is to get others to believe as they do — that abortion is always wrong. As such, they claim that they are providing services "related to" abortion, and that abortion alternatives are the proper services to perform for such situations.

The problem is that there's a socially accepted definition of "abortion services" and it always includes the ability to either perform an abortion, or willingly refer you to someone who will perform an abortion. So, when ordinary people show up, in need of an abortion, only then do they find out that the "services" provided are limited to prayer or religiously biased counselling. Been raped? We suggest adoption. Only fourteen? We suggest adoption. Complications in your pregnancy which are jeopardizing your health or life? We suggest...fuck, you'll be dead before then. Oh, wait, you want an actual abortion from our abortion services center? You'll have to haul your heathen ass over to a real abortion center. Hopefully you'll make it in time, and hopefully it isn't just another fake abortion center like this one.

Hey, non-hypothetical assholes who are actually part of these fake abortion clinics — you want to convert people to your way of thinking? Do so honestly. Advertise as a provider of "abortion alternatives," and then feel free to proselytize to every person who walks through your doors. As long as they know what they'd be showing up for, we have no problem with that. But the moment you lie in order to get people in the door, you are reduced to a con-man performing a fucking bait-and-switch on someone in need of help. In fact, the only reason that we can see for not openly pointing out that you provide only abortion alternatives is if your actual intent is to deceive people. The very act of not being clear reveals the underlying intent to deceive. And unlike "hate speech" which, at worst, can cause anger and offense, this type of false and misleading advertising can directly infringe on the life and health of those deceived. That is simply unacceptable.

We've seen two primary arguments defending these centers, and neither holds water in our opinion. First, we've heard the argument that the pro-choice movement shouldn't get to define what the term "abortion services" means, and as such, the services provided by these fake abortion centers could very well count as "abortion services." However, as we've said, the only reason not to clearly state that you provide only abortion alternatives is if your intention is in fact to deceive. As such, we simply do not see this argument as valid. In addition, it isn't the members of the pro-choice movement who have decided that abortion services entail the ability and willingness to perform actual abortions; it's simply what is expected when that term is used. In our phonebook, there are two headings — "abortion alternatives" and "abortion services." The definition of "abortion services" provided by the Verizon Yellowpages is:

Abortion Services: Advertisers under this heading perform abortion services or refer clients to businesses that do.

And the description of "abortion alternatives" provided is:

Abortion Alternatives: Advertisers under this heading provide assistance, and/or information on abortion alternatives. They do not provide abortion services, or abortion referrals.

It isn't about the pro-choice people defining this term, it's about the generally accepted meaning of this term, and the evangelicals' deliberate and obvious misuse of it for the explicit purposes of deception.

The other argument we've heard is that this isn't legally fraud because, in most cases, these fake clinics don't charge their clients any money. However, this doesn't mean that the intentional deceptions perpetrated by these fake clinics isn't fraud. Criminal law and legal definitions differ from place to place, but in general:

In criminal law, fraud is the crime or offense of deliberately deceiving another in order to damage them...

While the damages in most of these instances don't take the form of fees paid to the clinic, it is clear that damage can be done. It's possible that a trip to one of these centers could result in a delay such that a pregnancy is too far along for a legal abortion (or for emergency contraception, which has an even shorter window of opportunity). Forgetting for a moment the very real emotional harm that deceptive clinics like these can have on their victims, the damages associated with these examples can have very real physical and monetary impacts — how cheap do you think it is to maintain a healthy pregnancy, and thereafter raise a child? (And we somehow doubt that these fucks are going to pay the way for a mother they conned into having an unwanted child. As usual, the evangelical concern for all human life ends once the umbilical cord is cut.) In addition, it is possible that health issues could be made worse as a result of such delays, similarly resulting in physical and financial damages. Therefore, to us, and without question, this deceptive advertising certainly does qualify as fraud.

Free speech isn't absolute. Like all of the rights that we defend, the right to free speech ends at the moment that speech actually infringes on the rights of another person. We're not talking about being offended — there is no right to "not be offended." The issue isn't whether the speech is offensive, or whether the speech is in support of a religious group. The issue is that these people are outright lying for their cause, and in doing so, they are infringing on the health, life, and liberty of their victims. It is crystal clear to us that religious centers falsely advertising as providers of "abortion services" are guilty of causing harm (how very Christian of them). As such, they should be held legally accountable for their harmful, deceitful actions.

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[  Filed under: % Civil Liberties  % Greatest Hits  % Religion  ]

Comments (7)

CJ, 2006.07.07 (Fri) 01:52 [Link] »
" ... fraud is the crime or offense of deliberately deceiving another in order to damage them..."
But you don't understand, they're not doing it to damage them, their intent (or so they'll argue) is to save them.

kate, 2006.07.07 (Fri) 08:18 [Link] »

they also perform ultrasounds without an actual physician so you may end up thinkiing you've had proper prenatal care and been checked out for possible complications when in reality all you've got is a pretty picture

Tom from the Two Percent Company, 2006.07.07 (Fri) 10:34 [Link] »

kate: Thanks for the link. In addition, one of the papers that article links to is also worth a read. It documents the results of a study of these fake clinics that took place in Texas, and it outlines some of their common practices, as well as the clear differences between a real abortion clinic and a fake one.

CJ: Exactly. And if we were to continue to let these people get away with their actions because of a flimsy lie like that, it would be nothing short of tragic.

interupt, 2006.07.08 (Sat) 00:16 [Link] »


Good post, and yeah I felt the underlying anger from the words, and I wholeheartedly agree. Nothing sends me into a rage more than endangering life based on the "value" of prayer, especially when children are involved. Personally people like these can pray in prison when a child in their care dies.

It sounds like an awful state of affairs when a great country like the US can have such confusing information on a subject that 3rd world countries have better access to such services.

My brief experience was family planning was a breeze. The information at hand, one clinic for evreything to with sexual health male and female, and all services covered by Australian Medicare.

...I just read those reports from Texas....word fail me

geronimo, 2006.07.10 (Mon) 11:31 [Link] »

does the line "thou shalt not bear false witness" ring a bell, fundies? it's commonly found on those illegal marble things you keep trying to put out front of the courts...

Jason Spicer, 2006.07.11 (Tue) 19:33 [Link] »

Religion IS deceit. It should come as no great shock when self-deception and wishful thinking grow up and become fraud. Adopting the motto of Thou Shalt Not Lie is perfect PR for liars.


ebohlman, 2006.07.13 (Thu) 04:19 [Link] »

Something very close to the "Christian Science Emergency Center" scenario actually happened. Right after the 9/11 attacks, lots of cable and broadcast stations started running a phone number for a "mental health hotline" for survivors who were having, well, mental health problems. As you've probably guessed, the hotline actually connected you to a church, the one that counts Tom Cruise as a member, the one that completely opposes the practice of psychiatry and psychology. The stations kept running the number for a few days during which ex-$cientologists and cult-watchers were frantically trying to inform them about the deception. Former $cientologists reported that during the affair, there were plenty of gloating emails about how many people they "kept away from psychs."

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