New York Times: The True Mission of “Crisis Pregnancy Centers”
By Susan Dominus
October 12, 2010
Imagine a young woman riding the subway, consumed by her thoughts: she is pregnant, considering abortion, but unsure of where to turn. She looks up midcommute and notices a sign with three bold words, one beneath the other: “Free abortion alternatives.” At the bottom of the sign are several phone numbers that will lead her to any one of 12 E.M.C. FrontLine Pregnancy Centers around New York City.
The centers — crisis pregnancy centers — provide support for women who would like to continue their pregnancies but are in dire financial straits. They provide useful social service referrals and offer a sympathetic ear for women continuing their pregnancies.
They do not, however, provide a full range of alternatives (like the morning-after pill) or condone all choices. To the contrary, they oppose abortion, and their staff members try their hardest to talk women out of having one, even if that means, according to Planned Parenthood of New York City, showing them graphic images and telling them that “God will never forgive you.”
A yearlong investigation by Naral Pro-Choice New York found that crisis pregnancy centers — in addition to the E.M.C. centers, there are at least four others in the city — feed women information that has been medically refuted (including an old standby, rejected by the National Cancer Institute, that abortions cause higher rates of breast cancer).
Partly in response to findings in that report, Christine C. Quinn, the City Council speaker, and Councilwoman Jessica S. Lappin, Democrat of Manhattan, are proposing legislation that would require the stance of these crisis pregnancy centers to be clear to all women who visit them — either intentionally, or by accident while seeking a Planned Parenthood clinic across the street, or because the word “abortion” loomed much larger to them on that subway sign than the word “alternative.”
To compensate for ambiguities like unclear signage at the centers, the bill, set to be announced on Tuesday, would require, among other things, signs at the entrance and in the waiting rooms to inform women that the center does not provide abortions or contraceptives approved by the Food and Drug Administration, and that it does not provide referrals for those options, either. Signage would also need to make it clear if no licensed medical professional is on the staff.
There is nothing misleading about the E.M.C. Web site, which boldly announces its agenda in red: “Fighting for life in NYC — the abortion capital of America.” Nor is there anything neutral about what women hear once they are seated across from a staff person at any of those centers.
But the vague signage, the E.M.C. centers’ intentional proximity to Planned Parenthood services, and some of the other centers’ more misleading Web sites can make for confusion. “I think they are deceiving women purposely,” Ms. Quinn said. “But even if you yielded that they weren’t, given how potent the emotions, the politics, isn’t it just smart for us to know who provides what and who doesn’t?”
The signs are not exactly as onerous as the scripts that abortion providers in South Dakota have been required by law to say: that abortion will “terminate the life of a whole, separate, unique, living human being.”
Unsurprisingly, Chris Slattery, the president of E.M.C. Pregnancy Centers, considers the New York bill excessive. “They don’t do pro-life counseling,” Mr. Slattery said, referring to Planned Parenthood. “Why don’t we have on Planned Parenthood’s door ‘No pro-life counseling, only pro-abortion counseling’ — O.K.? Let’s just have a level playing field.”
In Mr. Slattery’s mind, his centers are more upfront than Planned Parenthood’s: when asked, he says that he opposes abortion; Planned Parenthood, he argues, never admits to what he believes is an anti-adoption, pro-abortion agenda.
In fact, Planned Parenthood, which has long supported adoption, has seen some of its chapters recently enhance their own adoption counseling. But some conflicted women might imagine that a place so closely associated with abortion rights could not possibly be the right place to hash out the decision — an assumption of polarization seems to kick in reflexively. Based on facts, not just feelings, the crisis pregnancy centers are clearly not an unbiased place for a woman to sort through that choice, and the sooner she knows it, the better.
The term “crisis pregnancy center” is not one of those overly determined phrases that one side or the other of the abortion debate insists upon, but of late, most anti-abortion advocates seem to prefer calling them pregnancy resource centers. It sounds lulling and neutral, does it not? Like the ideal, nonpartisan place where a woman could assume people would understand the depths of her moral dilemma. A pregnancy resource center with no loaded history or agenda whatsoever — if only there were more of them.