In the wake of the Supreme Court’s controversial decision to overturn Roe v. Wade last June, City Council member Vickie Paladino has not only stood out in her anti-choice stance but in her continued financial support for anti-abortion groups.
Paladino, who represents Queens and was endorsed by the anti-abortion group Personhood NY when she ran for the New York State Senate in 2018, awarded $10,000 in discretionary funds to Bridge to Life, a Queens-based anti-abortion crisis pregnancy center, for the 2023 budget cycle.
Paladino’s colleagues in the council, as well as pro-choice advocates, denounced her actions, telling Documented that supporting such centers, which pose as health clinics with the intention of persuading women not to get abortions, put poor and working-class immigrant women at risk.
When Roe v. Wade was overturned, the women-majority New York City Council overwhelmingly passed several bills that would create an abortion fund, strengthen access to abortion, enable health clinics to provide free abortion pills, and allow for civil lawsuits against anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centers that interfere with a woman’s right to an abortion.
But, in addition to spreading misinformation, anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centers, like Bridge to Life, specifically target vulnerable immigrant women who have few options, said Aviva Zadoff, director of Advocacy and Volunteer Engagement with the National Council of Jewish Women New York, an organization combating the proliferation of the crisis pregnancy centers.
“Crisis pregnancy centers tend to target low-income people, immigrants, and non-native speakers; people who are attracted to a place that is offering free services,” said Zadoff. “They do a good job trying to look and sound like a real clinic so if you are not someone who’s super familiar with our healthcare system and not familiar in English, something that is purposely trying to fool you will be more successful.”
Elizabeth Estrada, New York Field and Advocacy Manager for the Latina Institute for Reproductive Justice said that these centers prey on Latina women seeking abortions.
“We know that they target us because they put Spanish language signs in their window,” she said. “They always have someone on staff that speaks Spanish.”
Across the five boroughs, there are at least 11 crisis pregnancy centers in operation. In New York, crisis pregnancy centers outnumber abortion clinics. According to Estrada, many of these centers are located in heavily immigrant communities, like Mott Haven in the Bronx and Jackson Heights in Queens.
City Council member Shahana Hanif, who sits on the council’s Women’s Caucus and has been one of the leading figures in the council to strengthen the City’s commitment to ensuring access to abortion, said she was “appalled” to learn that one of her colleagues used city funds to support anti-abortion groups.
“We should not be allowed to fund organizations like the Bridge to Life or any other crisis pregnancy centers,” she said. “The fact that this has happened, I find so dangerous and violent.”
Council member Amanda Farías, who co-chairs the Women’s Caucus, also said she was disappointed, hoping that the council could find a way to counteract the influence of these centers.
“So it’s alarming to me but also not surprising,” she said. “It’s our job to make sure we are looking holistically at how we can provide real access and related information to our community members.”
Zadoff said the council member was “essentially using taxpayer’s money to support an institution that lies to people and intimidates people and works to deceive people,” adding that “allocating money from a city council to these places is money that could’ve been used for a more deserving organization.”
This is not the first time that City Council discretionary funds have made their way into the arms of Bridge to Life. Between 2011 and 2019, former City Council members Eric Ulrich, Daniel Halloran, Peter Koo, and Paul Vallone collectively awarded $82,500 in discretionary funds to Bridge to Life. In 2017, former Council member Koo was publicly criticized for his financial support for the organization.
Neither Bridge to Life nor Council member Paladino responded to Documented’s request for comment.
Although New York City law requires that crisis pregnancy centers clearly disclose whether they are licensed medical providers, these facilities still remain virtually unregulated. Centers found in violation face a fine between $200 and $1,000 the first time, and upwards of $2,500 for a repeat offense. If a center accumulates three fines in two years it could be could shut down for upwards of five days. Yet, even with the city’s disclosure law, it’s seldom enforced.
According to the NYC Department of Consumer and Worker Protection (DCWP), since the law was passed in 2011, between 2018 and 2021, the agency received 57 complaints but only issued two violations. As of 2022, Bridge to Life hasn’t received any complaints or violations.
Council Member Hanif has been leading the charge in combating the influence of crisis pregnancy centers. In August, Hanif was able to get her law Intro 0474 passed, which would require the City to spearhead a public education program regarding safe access to reproductive health care. The law also allows women the ability to sue crisis pregnancy centers if they interfere with their reproductive health.
But given revelations of Paladino’s support for Bridge To Life, Hanif said she would be engaging with the Council to brainstorm how they can best address the issue.
“I look forward to raising this to my colleagues in the Women’s Caucus and seeing how we can really bring our forces together to speak out against using our city’s dollars to fund crisis pregnancy centers because this is the first I heard this was happening,” she said. “I’ll be looking for opportunities to speak about this and ensure our body is not funding dangerous and misleading organizations.”
This story was reported with information from the Reveal Reporting Network