A proposed New York City law would require crisis pregnancy centers to state clearly that they don't offer abortion or contraceptive services. But anti-choice groups claim it's a violation of a speech.
According to Michael Howard Saul of the Wall Street Journal, the law would require centers that don't provide abortions, abortion referrals, or contraception to state as much on their ads and websites, and on signs posted in their offices. If they don't have licensed medical practitioners on site, they'd have to disclose that too. The bill's sponsor, Council Member Jessica Lapin, says,
These are anti-choice centers masquerading as health clinics. Women who are scared and vulnerable and having a very tough decision to make have a right to factually accurate medical information, and the fact that these folks would purposely try to mislead them is not right.
Planned Parenthood concurs — the organization said in a statement,
It is essential that pregnant women receive accurate, comprehensive, and timely information about all of their options and their health. This bill ensures that the women of NY will know what services they will and will not be getting when they go to a limited service pregnancy center, and ensures that their private information will be protected. The last thing women need is misinformation about their birth control options and comprehensive information withheld from them.
The operators of some of the centers, unsurprisingly, are against the bill. Chris Slattery, president of Expectant Mother Care Frontline Pregnancy Centers (tagline: "Fighting For Life in NYC — The Abortion Capital of America"), says, "This is an outrageous interference with an extremely helpful and positive outreach to often disadvantaged expectant mothers. How many other New York City businesses will be required to say on their doors what services they don't offer?" But crisis pregnancy centers won't be forced to disclose that they don't, say, serve hot dogs. They'll merely be barred from pretending they're something they're not — full-service women's health clinics.
Marcy Sarosick, executive director of crisis pregnancy center Bridge to Life, tells Saul that most women who come to the center know it's "a pro-life organization." But, confusingly, she also says posting a sign about her center's lack of abortion services might cause women to "just walk out" — thus implying that if customers knew what her organization really did, they'd leave. How many New York businesses would say that?
Interestingly, some New York-area centers are already up-front — at least on their websites — about what they do and don't provide. The Boro Pregnancy Counseling Center in Bayside clearly states in its "About Us" section that "BPCC does not offer abortions or abortion referrals" and "BPCC is NOT a medical clinic." Others are a little more circumspect. The Midtown Pregnancy Support Center's website says it's "a not-for-profit faith-based organization offering alternatives to abortion." However, they also say,
We counsel from an options perspective. We believe in order to make the best decision at this difficult time in your life, you need to be informed of what all your options are. You can expect to be informed of three options: parenting, adoption and abortion. Each option is clearly explained by your peer counselor so that you may make your personal decision regarding your pregnancy.
The language of "options" is pervasive in crisis pregnancy center web copy. Expectant Mother Care Frontline Pregnancy Centers offers lists all its center contact info on a page located at www.abortion-options.com, which sure sounds like it might offer some tips on where and how to get an abortion. The Crisis Pregnancy Center of New York has a whole "Options" section on its site, which offers such advice as, "When you choose to continue your pregnancy and keep your baby, you are about to undertake one of the most challenging and exciting journeys in life," and "Abortion is not a simple medical procedure. For many women it is a life changing event with significant physical, emotional, and spiritual consequences." And BPCC's pregnancy resources section links to OptionLine, a website that connects abortion to breast cancer, suicide, and eating disorders.
Why do so many crisis pregnancy centers use the word "options?" Maybe because it sounds like choice (and in fact, the Arizona-based crisis pregnancy center website www.choicesaz.org goes all the way there). But these centers don't offer women all the choices they deserve — and they shouldn't be able to pretend they do.
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