Baltimore Finds A Common Sense Solution to Crisis Pregnancy Centers

Jenny Blasdell

Crisis pregnancy centers spread misinformation about abortion and birth control in an effort to dissuade women from exploring those options. The Baltimore City Council wants to change that.

Imagine a
friend of yours, a pregnant woman, walks into an office seeking information
about her pregnancy. Only, it’s not a doctor’s office and they’re not going to
tell her the truth.  Unfortunately,
this happens every day across the United States.

Everyone can
agree that women seeking information about pregnancy, birth control, abortion,
or sexually transmitted diseases should receive timely and accurate
information, not false political propaganda.  But there are facilities out there that spread
misinformation about abortion and birth control in an effort to dissuade women
from exploring those options.   These are known as limited service
pregnancy centers or crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs).

In Baltimore
and around the country, many facilities have neutral sounding names like
“Center for Pregnancy Concerns.”  Sounds like a place you could get
information or services for your pregnancy concerns, right?  Wrong. 
Volunteers who visited these centers were told falsehoods like abortion
increases your risk of breast cancer, that natural family planning is as
effective as the pill, and that condoms do not protect against sexually
transmitted diseases (STDs).  CPCs
are concerned alright, but not about what’s in the best interest of women’s
health.  They’re concerned with preventing
women from exploring their full range of options to protect against unplanned
pregnancy and STDs.

CPCs do not
always disclose information about the limitations of services or their
anti-choice agendas in their advertising, particularly their beliefs about
birth control.  Low-cost birth control has been proven to be the most
effective way to decrease the need for abortion, yet CPCs give false
information about the safety and effectiveness of contraceptives.  Moreover, not a single CPC in Baltimore
City contacted by NARAL Pro-Choice Maryland Fund volunteers would provide a
referral for comprehensive birth control.

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That’s why
this week Baltimore City Council President Stephanie Rawlings-Blake introduced
the Limited-Service Pregnancy Centers Disclaimer Bill.  Co-sponsored by ten other council
members, this bill is a common sense measure that
will ensure that women visiting a Baltimore CPC are informed that they will not
receive comprehensive birth control or abortion services or referrals. 
The measure does not ask CPCs to provide services they find objectionable. 
It only asks them to be honest and straightforward with the women, so that they
know up front whether the facility will suit their needs.  Having a more
complete picture about the services that are and are not offered will also help
provide a context for information they do receive.   The goal of this
bill is to empower women to make decisions about their care, and decide if a
so-called “Center for Pregnancy Concern” is, well, concerned about the same
things as they are.

This bill is
an exciting step in Maryland. 
Although Maryland introduced a statewide bill to regulate CPCs in 2008,
the bill, like all pro-choice bills in the last eleven years in our state, did
not move forward.  But localities
around the country have been enacting laws and policies to strengthen the
reproductive rights of women.  For
example, Pittsburgh enacted a buffer zone protecting patients entering
reproductive health care facilities. 
And Madison, Wisconsin created an ordinance requiring pharmacies to let
customers know when emergency contraception is not available.

NARAL
Pro-Choice Maryland
and Planned Parenthood of Maryland are committed to
ensuring that every woman has the best medical care possible – from birth
control to prenatal vitamins, from pre-conception care to labor and
delivery.  We have no objection to a center that offers women who have
decided to carry their pregnancies to term any help they like.  But lines
are crossed when a CPC is not up front about their services, or when a center misleads
women. 

The Limited
Service Pregnancy Centers Disclaimers Bill simply asks that Baltimore CPCs
disclose what is true – that they do not provide or refer for comprehensive
birth control services or abortion so that women know up front whether the
facility suits their needs.   We believe this bill to be a common
sense approach to a goal we all share – getting women the care they need. 

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