A Massachusetts woman claims that an anti-abortion crisis pregnancy center failed to diagnose her ectopic pregnancy during an ultrasound appointment and that the pregnancy later ruptured, requiring emergency surgery to remove one of her fallopian tubes. Ectopic pregnancies are never viable and can be life-threatening; the pregnancy should have been terminated immediately.
The woman, known as Jane Doe, filed a class action lawsuit on Thursday in Worcester Superior Court alleging that Clearway Clinic in Worcester didn’t follow standard medical care. The suit also claims that Clearway engages in deceptive practices to lure in people seeking the full range of pregnancy options, when its actual purpose is just to dissuade them from getting abortions.
According to a press release, Doe thought she might be pregnant in October 2022 and wanted to get an ultrasound. She found Clearway through an online search and got an appointment later that day. A Clearway nurse did an ultrasound and said the pregnancy was both viable and in her uterus; the suit says it’s against state medical regulations for registered nurses to read ultrasounds because they’re not licensed diagnosticians. A physician didn’t see Doe, though her discharge paperwork said a medical doctor provided her care.
A month later, Doe felt shooting pain on her side and was so weak and lightheaded that her husband called 911, per the release. Emergency room doctors diagnosed her with a ruptured ectopic pregnancy and internal hemorrhage. In order to stop the hemorrhaging, doctors did emergency surgery in which they had to remove of one of her fallopian tubes. None of this should have been necessary, as legitimate medical providers would have ended Doe’s life-threatening pregnancy with medication—typically the cancer drug methotrexate.
Jezebel contacted Clearway for comment and didn’t hear back by publication time. CEO Jill Jorgensen said in a statement to Mass Live, “We cannot speak as to any individual’s medical claims or history due to HIPAA regulations.” She added that Clearway hadn’t faced an allegation like this in its more than 20 years of operation.
Crisis pregnancy centers, or anti-abortion centers, already receive millions in state funds, and many lawmakers are trying to increase funding after the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision. Many CPCs don’t employ medical professionals, but still have their staff perform dubious ultrasounds. They’ve also been known to mislead people by saying their pregnancies are less far along than they really are so they run out of time to get an abortion. CPCs using non-medical staff aren’t bound by the medical privacy law HIPAA. While this particular facility appears to have employed healthcare workers, they didn’t adhere to medical standards.
The woman’s attorney, Shannon Liss-Riordan, called Clearway’s actions “not only illegal, but abhorrent” in a statement. “Our client was forced to undergo a traumatic, dangerous, and completely avoidable emergency surgery to save her life because she was deceived into going to an anti-abortion clinic instead of an appropriate healthcare provider,” Liss-Riordan said. “At every step of the way, she was led to believe she was receiving appropriate medical care when in fact she was subject to a campaign of misinformation and unfair and deceptive practices.”
The Massachusetts-based group Reproductive Equity Now said anti-abortion centers outnumber real abortion clinics in the state by three to one. That figure is about the same nationally, but the ratio is often higher in Republican-controlled states.
Rebecca Hart Holder, president of Reproductive Equity Now, said in a statement that the case proves that anti-abortion centers harm not only people seeking abortions but also people who need basic pregnancy care. “These facilities fail to offer safe or legitimate health services, putting patients at serious risk,” she said. “When a person is seeking compassionate abortion or pregnancy care, the last thing they should have to worry about is a false health diagnosis that delays or stands in the way of life-saving treatment.”
Since the lawsuit is a class action, other people who believe Clearway deceived or mistreated them can join the litigation.