The New York City Council voted earlier this month for legislation which will regulate crisis pregnancy centers, also known as 'limited service pregnancy centers." The goal of the bill is to ensure that women who visit limited service pregnancy centers receive honest information about the services the centers do, or don't, provide.
The legislation is being called a "consumer protection" bill for its focus on tackling what Council Speaker Christinne Quinn says is the misinformation too many women face when visiting CPCs,
"At its core it is actually a consumer protection piece of legislation," Speaker Christine Quinn said. "The goal of this bill is to ensure that women are fully informed and not deceived when they are walking into offices that present themselves as medical offices when they are not."
The bill requires that the centers simply state clearly if they provide comprehensive pregnancy options information or services for abortion, birth control, emergency contraception and prenatal care. The information must be provided in both English and Spanish as well. The centers must also disclose whether or nor there is a licensed provider on site.
Notes NARAL Pro-Choice New York, providing this information,
"...will help ensure that every woman who walks into a CPC knows whether she will in fact be seeing a medical provider and that her personal private information will be kept confidential."
This type of legislation has been proposed (and passed) from coast to coast. Austin, TX has passed an ordinance requiring the disclosure of services provided. So has Montgomery County, MD. Washington State recently introduced a state bill which seeks to do much of the same - only statewide. After years of reports and investigations into these centers - which operate as outreach arms of religious groups - bills are popping up to protect women who seek actual health care but find themselves being proselytized and often lied to by volunteers with no medical training.
Physicians for Reproductive Choice and Health Medical Director, Anne Davis, MD, said in response to the bill,
“My patient Susan was duped by a CPC. She wanted to end her pregnancy and would have had a safe abortion if the CPC hadn't delayed her with unnecessary ultrasounds and lies. When Susan came to see me for an abortion, she was much too far along. The CPC had robbed her of not only her reproductive choice but also six months of prenatal care.
“The law passed today would require the CPC Susan visited to post a sign stating that it does not make referrals for abortion. This might have made a huge difference for Susan."
Unfortunately, stories like Susan's are not rare. Undercover investigations into crisis pregnancy centers reveal a pattern of delays, misinformation and inacccuracies. Pregnancy test results are not provided in a timely manner, women are told that abortion causes breast cancer and are warned of the non-existent "post abortion stress syndrome."
As well, the centers use deceptive practices in order to trick young women, at their most vulnerable, into thinking they are entering an actual health care facility. The New York Observer reported,
Joan Malin, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood New York City, said that pregnancy centers have been aggressively trying to steer pregnant women away from her organization.
"They target our health centers and patients, setting up across the street from our Bronx center and in the same building as our Brooklyn center," Malin said. "They prey upon our patients using deceptive signage and advertising."
A similar Baltimore bill was passed in 2010 but was challenged in federal court. In January of this year, a judge decided,
"The Government cannot, consistent with the First Amendment, require a 'pro-life' pregnancy-related service center to post a sign."
It's what those who oppose legal abortion believe as well. They say requiring crisis pregnancy centers to post that they do not refer for, provide or offer information about abortion and birth control "infringes on their first amendment rights." Still, after congressional reports and legal investigations have revealed a consistent pattern of lying, deceitful practices and misleading information at these centers, it's difficult to see how requiring honesty and truth in advertising, essentially, impinges upon free speech. What's even more astounding is that South Dakota can propose a law (already passed in the state's House) which requires women to visit a crisis pregnancy center before being allowed to undergo a legal abortion. Somehow forcing a woman to visit a religious organization to be pummeled by anti-abortion propaganda is not impeding on a woman's rights but regulating that these same centers communicate their services honestly is a travesty of free speech rights?