Friday, April 22, 2011

News Flash: NYC To Impose Restrictions on Crisis Pregnancy Centers

Five years ago, Carolyn Maloney, a representative for New York, proposed a bill that she called the Stop Deceptive Advertising in Women’s Services Act (Stevens). She believed that many anti-abortion pregnancy centers throughout New York were deliberately misleading women who were seeking the services of a legitimate medical clinic like Planned Parenthood. However, only last November was this bill put to the test. During a hearing in New York City hosted by the women’s issues committee of the New York City Council, the members of the council tried to gauge people’s reactions to the potential bill (Jensen). Many of the people who spoke had strong opinions one way or the other. However, it seemed that those opposing the bill far outnumbered those in favor. The line of people who had signed up to speak, aside from the professionals and experts who were asked by the panel to appear, stretched all the way out the door and down the block. This is clearly a heated issue that people have strong convictions about. The regulation of crisis pregnancy centers, or CPC’s, would be a local law, similar to one that passed in Baltimore, Maryland last year. According to Maloney, the law would require crisis pregnancy centers to be more transparent about the services they actually offer. The centers believe that this unfair because the law would not demand similar standards by pro-choice centers. Supporters of the clinics believe that the law is unconstitutional and would infringe upon their rights to freedom of speech. The real questions to focus on are what the law would ask of the centers, why these demands are being made in the first place, if it is constitutional to force crisis pregnancy centers to be more transparent, and what the greater implications will be if the law eventually is passed.
The Stop Deceptive Advertising in Women’s Services Act, is a law that would have serious effects on the pregnancy centers throughout New York City. It is referred to as Bill 0-371 A and would require 10 different disclosures in both English and Spanish. The disclosures would have to be made in person, in advertising, in signage, and on the phone. The disclosures would essentially tell women that they do not provide abortions, contraception, or have licensed medical personnel available (Jensen). It would also hold the pregnancy centers to a new standard of confidentiality. They would not be able to report cases of child molestation, child prostitution and child trafficking through these new confidentiality practices (Christian Newswire). Essentially, these new restrictions would force crisis pregnancy centers to specify that they are not, in fact, able to help women medically. They would keep women from seeking things that cannot be provided by crisis pregnancy centers and being confused from misleading signs or advertisements.
The main reason these demands are being made of the pro-life pregnancy centers is because many people believe they intentionally try to mislead women into thinking they provide services that they do not and then the women are “indoctrinated with anti-abortion propaganda” (Jensen). Although this is probably a bit of an exaggeration and most clinics are likely just trying to help women, there have been many cases where the centers remain rather ambiguous in their services. In one case, a center “set up shop in the same building and on the same floor as a Planned Parenthood clinic” (Jensen). When women are pregnant, scared and confused, it can be extremely misleading to see two centers claiming to help pregnant women right next to each other. One specific example that Carolyn Maloney refers to is a center in Robbinsdale, Minnesota. The Robbinsdale Women’s Center, an anti-abortion, religiously affiliated operation, is directly across the street from the Robbinsdale Clinic which is the actual medical facility. Joyce Johnson, the office manager of the Robbinsdale Clinic reported that at least three or four patients a month are “confused by the center’s proximity and vague name” (Stevens). She believes that this is a deliberate tactic by the Robbinsdale Women’s Center and claims that the “patients who go there are not told that they may be in the wrong place” (Stevens). This is part of the reason why city officials are lobbying for transparency because these types of delays infringe on pre-natal care and abortion services (Jensen). If women are not told explicitly what type of care they will receive at the pregnancy centers, they may be misled until it is too late to seek the services they require.
However, pro-life crisis pregnancy centers are arguing that these laws are unconstitutional and infringe on their right to free speech. Jor-El Godsey, the vice president of affiliate services at Heartbeat International, in response to the Robbinsdale issue said he believes that “All advertising is designed to lure somebody into something. Crisis pregnancy centers operate on the same strategy that competing grocery stores do; they open up near a rival to draw their customers” (Stevens). The main issue many people have with the bill is that pro-choice clinics are being left completely untouched by any such restrictions. Mark Rienzi, who led the fight against Baltimore’s similar restrictions on crisis pregnancy centers, argued that the bill “certainly cannot target pro-life speakers for special sign requirements and fines while leaving speech by abortion clinics entirely unregulated. This new regulation violates every core principle of freedom of speech” (Christian Newswire). He definitely has support in his conviction and many people feel similarly that it is unjust to only require pro-life organizations to meet these standards. Councilman Daniel Halloran agrees that the law is particularly unbalanced. He said he “wouldn’t mind if we had a bill that talked about regulating both Planned Parenthood and crisis pregnancy centers” but the fact that both parties aren’t regulated is unreasonable (Galdi). The thought is that it places pro-choice clinics at the advantage.
On the opposing side, pro-choice groups that would like to impose these restrictions, argue that all that matters is transparency and truth in advertising. An attorney from the American Civil Liberties Union was asked to speak before the council as to the validity of the law under the First Amendment. He believed that the bill passed the First Amendment test because under the amendment the government can require truth in advertising which is essentially what the bill would be doing (Jensen). Councilwoman Jessica Lappin says that it is simply about transparency. “We want women to know and to make sure it’s clear walking in the door,” that they are in a place that cannot offer them medical services (Galdi). The law would be the device that ensures women know exactly what they are signing up for instead of being deceived by misleading advertising or information. If the information or advertising they are projecting to the public is untrue, it is the government’s responsibility to regulate it until it is honest.
The implications if this law is passed are extensive. We discussed in class that women are often deceived in these centers and often being misled for even a few days can change the outcome of a pregnancy. Abortion is a very time sensitive procedure. If a woman were misinformed by the crisis pregnancy centers, by the time she realizes her mistake it could be too late to have the procedure done. Along with that, we have discussed how many states have very strict regulations for abortion anyway. Many places require women to go to bias counseling which preys on young, vulnerable and sometimes uneducated women. Some of the crisis pregnancy centers seem to be applying the same tactics. As Arcana discusses in her article, no woman wants to get an abortion. It is a difficult choice for any woman to make and once she chooses that route she should be respected for making the right decision for her unborn child. There are enough wires around the birdcage of female health services without women being purposefully misinformed.
Although the regulations on crisis pregnancy centers would be a change, it is one that is necessary to cancel the ambiguities that have long been confusing women who are already in difficult and sensitive situations. The laws would ask a lot of pregnancy centers, but if they are already clear in their objectives, it shouldn’t be very much to ask. It is understandable that it seems unjust that pro-choice centers have no such regulations. That is something that I believe needs to change. If pro-life organizations are asked to state their goals and services, then pro-choice organizations should have to comply as well. It will be interesting to see where this heated, and clearly personal to some, debate goes in the near future. The implications of laws on transparency are great, and could have a serious impact on women’s healthcare.


Sources


"NYC Mayor Bloomberg Unsure Whether Pregnancy Center Bill Signed is Constitutional" by The Christian Newswire



"NYC Tests Brakes on Crisis Pregnancy Centers" by Rita Henley Jensen
http://www.womensenews.org/story/abortion/101126/nyc-tests-brakes-crisis-pregnancy-centers


"Crisis Pregnancy Centers Face Potential Regulations" Marisa Galdi
http://www.wfuv.org/news/science-health/110301/crisis-pregnancy-centers-face-potential-regulations


"Maloney Calls for Truth in Clinic Advertising" by Allison Stevens

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