Wall Street Journal: Council Sets Abortion Fight
By Michael Howard Saul
October 12, 2010
The City Council plans to unveil legislation Tuesday that would establish strict disclosure requirements for crisis-pregnancy centers, some of which, abortion-rights advocates charge, deceive women into believing they're full-serve reproductive health facilities by masking their antiabortion agenda.
The legislation, backed by Speaker Christine Quinn, would require the centers to disclose to clients that they do not provide abortion services or contraceptive devices, or make referrals to organizations that do. Centers that don't have licensed medical providers onsite would also have to disclose that information.
Under the bill, the centers would be required to hang disclosure signs in their offices and post statements on websites and in advertisements.
Denounced by abortion-rights opponents as government harassment and a violation of their First Amendment rights, the legislation is similar to laws in Baltimore, Montgomery County, Md., and Austin, Tex. In Maryland, there are two pending lawsuits claiming the local laws violate free-speech rights.
Council Member Jessica Lappin, the bill's primary sponsor, said the legislation is imperative to protect women who go to crisis-pregnancy centers without realizing the operators' mission is to counsel against abortion.
"These are anti-choice centers masquerading as health clinics," said Ms. Lapin, a Manhattan Democrat. "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."
There are roughly 2,300 crisis-pregnancy centers that counsel more than half a million women a year nationwide, advocates estimate. In New York state, there are more than 150, with more than a dozen in the five boroughs.
Chris Slattery, president of Expectant Mother Care Frontline Pregnancy Centers, which operate in the city, said the legislation is a violation of First Amendment rights. He accused the council of championing the "abortion industry's agenda."
"This is an outrageous interference with an extremely helpful and positive outreach to often disadvantaged expectant mothers," Mr. Slattery said. "How many other New York City businesses will be required to say on their doors what services they don't offer?"
To demonstrate support for the legislation, NARAL Pro-Choice New York Foundation and the National Institute for Reproductive Health, organizations that support abortion rights, will release Tuesday a report exposing what they call the "lies, manipulations and privacy violations" of these centers.
The groups sent women pretending to be pregnant to the centers, and they received misinformation and experienced scare tactics, the report says. At one center in Queens, a woman was falsely told abortion could cause breast cancer, and there was literature there asking, "Is it really necessary to kill your baby?" the report says.
Nearly 40% of the city's centers present themselves as entirely neutral, hiding their "anti-choice bias," the report says.
"I don't have any problem with their right to exist—that's not what this is about," said Kelli Conlin, president of NARAL Pro-Choice New York. "This is about mandating that they are absolutely upfront and honest about their ideology."
Marcy Sarosick, executive director of a Bridge to Life crisis-pregnancy center, said most women who come to her facility know "we're a pro-life organization." She said she didn't necessarily have a problem with posting a disclosure sign.
Still, she said, "I don't think we should be forced to." She said one disadvantage of a sign is that it could cause some women to "just walk out."
A social worker at Planned Parenthood of New York City, Balin Anderson, said she has counseled at least 10 women since June who visited such facilities without realizing they oppose abortion. She said the women are told "abortion is a sin, it's murder, it's very high risk, you're going to become infertile."
Thomas Glessner, president of the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates, a group that provides legal counsel and training to about 1,200 crisis-pregnancy centers nationwide, said the vast majority of women are pleased with the counseling they receive. The bill is a "political attack" from abortion-rights advocates, he said.
"They are not going to be happy ever until, frankly, they close centers down," he said.
Under the bill, fines for violations range from $200 to $2,500. Centers with three or more violations within two years could be shuttered for a maximum of five days. The legislation also would require the centers to keep clients' personal information confidential.
Ms. Quinn said the legislation simply demands "truth in advertising": "If you are a center that doesn't believe in abortion, that doesn't believe in birth control, that's your right. But don't try to trick women by presenting yourself as something else."