By Carlton College students Maggie Goldberger '19, Emma Bessire '19, Natalie Jacobson '18
Less than a block from Carleton College’s campus, right in the middle of downtown Northfield, Minnesota, is a small clinic called the “Northfield Women’s Center.” The clinic looks friendly and welcoming. Their advertisements plaster every bus that shuttles students between the town’s two college campuses and takes community members to Target or the supermarket. The center advertises services like free STI screenings and ultrasounds for pregnant people.
Most members of our community—and most students on our campus—assumed that this was a legitimate health clinic, an assumption that was probably further backed up by this clinic’s resemblance to a legitimate health care center in town the “Northfield Women’s Health Center.” When we found out that this “clinic” was a fake women’s health center or “crisis pregnancy center,” an anti-choice, fake clinic dedicated to spreading harmful misinformation about birth control and abortion and shaming students for their sexuality. We were even more angry when we found out that our college was leasing the space to this fake clinic.
So we got organized.
We set in motion a campaign to demand that our administration not renew the lease for the Northfield Women’s Center. We compiled dozens of accounts from students and community members who had visited the center, and we sent in more students to record their own appointments, gathering evidence about the lies, manipulation, and shame that our administration had allowed to occur in our community. We collected the center’s “informational” pamphlets and online resources, comparing their false statistics with real data compiled by trusted groups like the American Psychological Association. We circulated a petition on campus, called alums, and planned large demonstrations during our annual campus fundraising drive and at the Northfield Women’s Center fundraising banquet (which was hosted at another college in town). We sent hundreds of emails, letters, and calls to admin, demanding that they not renew the lease, and in the end, the Northfield Women’s Center decided to move out! But our fight against fake clinics in Northfield is far from over.
Below are some lessons learned from our efforts and tips for what YOU can do on your campus:
Knowing your audience is a crucial part of organizing. Being able to understand what you need to say to get your ideas across to another person or organization helps make your message more effective. For example, when talking to our school administration, we were sure to frame this not as a political issue but one of academic integrity. As an education institution and as a school, we should not be facilitating the spread of false medical information.
Chances are, when people on your campus find out what exactly the fake clinic is doing, they’re gonna be mad. When our campaign started picking up steam and Carleton students began to find out about just what the Northfield Women’s Center was, they were shocked and angered to know about it. A year ago, a large majority of campus was unaware of the damage they caused to the community. Now, almost everyone on campus can tell you what a fake clinic is. A large part of this was due to our tabling sessions in the student center, postering around campus, phone banking to alumni, social media management, partnering with other student organizations in events, and protests.
Reach out to your campus health center. Fake women’s health centers are known to target college students, either by setting up clinics very close to campus, hosting on-campus events, or even building relationships with legitimate on-campus health care services. Find out whether your campus health services refer students to fake clinics. If health services are not referring students to these places, ensure that they are empowering students with legitimate resources and information, and advocate for student health services to offer the same low-cost services that fake clinics use to attract students (for example, free STD/STI testing).
Be strategic about who you are talking to. Who is making the decisions that matter? Whose mind do you want to change? Reach out to relevant administration to make sure you are being as effective as possible in your messaging.
Write an Op-ed or Letter to the Editor! Something concrete and useful you can do to raise awareness about the fake clinic in your community is writing an Op-ed or Letter to the Editor in your local and school newspaper. This is a great way to bring your activism out of the sphere of your school as well!
Fake clinics don’t only affect college campuses. Postering in your town is a great way to build awareness about the truth of fake women’s health centers to a wider community. Reach out to local allies and organizations to broaden your reach and mobilize even more community members to stop the lies.
Plan a demonstration. Is the fake clinic hosting a benefit or event nearby? Host a quiet protest with signs that say things like “End the Lies,” “This clinic lies to women,” and “Abortion is healthcare.” Remember that you are there to raise awareness and make your voice heard, not to start conflict or get in debates.