Baltimore Puts Heat on Crisis Pregnancy Centers

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

In late November the Baltimore City Council ordered crisis pregnancy centers to post disclaimers and a Maryland county council will debate a similar bill Dec. 10. Pro-choice activists hope other local governments will follow suit.

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In California, NARAL's Cole said her organization is awaiting state approval to conduct a report on its crisis pregnancy centers. The group aims to introduce legislation to regulate the centers in 2011 and Cole says they've secured the backing of a few state senators she declined to name.

In Oregon, pro-choice activists hope 2011 will also be the year for them to gain regulatory legislation introduced targeting that state's crisis pregnancy centers.

"We have several legislators who back us up," said Laura Taylor, political and field director for NARAL's Oregon office. "We just need to come up with a piece of legislation." Taylor said Baltimore's bill offers a model.

Texas in Tougher Spot

Pro-choice organizations in Texas are in a tougher spot due to an anti-choice legislature. Still, Lesley Ramsey, Planned Parenthood's chief lobbyist in Texas, said that the Baltimore bill might work in Austin, a potentially receptive city for what she called progressive policy.

Elizabeth Nash, a legislative expert for the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive rights organization based in New York and Washington, D.C., said the Baltimore bill and possible activity in Texas, Oregon and California are great ways to test out new approaches to rein in crisis pregnancy centers.

"Traditionally, one way democracy has worked is to use cities and localities as an incubator for new ideas," Nash said.

This sort of incremental approach may be plodding, but Nash pointed out how anti-choice activists have made gains since 1973, when the Supreme Court ruled in Roe v. Wade that abortion was part of a woman's constitutional right to privacy. "So using an incremental strategy on our end might be a good idea too," Nash said.

A 2006 congressional report, prepared for Rep. Henry Waxman, a California Democrat, found that 87 percent of the centers investigated gave women false or misleading information about abortion and birth control.

For the study, female investigators called 25 crisis pregnancy centers in 15 states. In eight cases the women were told that abortion causes breast cancer and in seven cases they were warned that abortion could lead to "many miscarriages."

Julia Marsh is a Washington, D.C.-based correspondent covering domestic and foreign affairs for a Japanese newspaper.

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