Abortion

Austin City Council Considering “Truth in Advertising” Ordinance for CPCs

Rachel Larris

The city of Austin, Texas is considering passing an ordinance to require so-called crisis pregnancy centers to post a notice that they do not provide birth control, abortion services or referrals to abortion providers.

The city of Austin, Texas is considering passing an ordinance to require so-called crisis pregnancy centers to post a notice that they do not provide birth control, abortion services or referrals to abortion providers. The Austin Chronicle reports:

On the Austin City Council’s agenda for its April 8 meeting is a proposed ordinance that would require so-called “crisis pregnancy centers” to post a sign to notify consumers that they do not provide or make referrals for either abortion or contraceptive services.

If the ordinance is enacted, Austin would become the second city in the nation to provide the consumer alert for clients visiting CPCs – unlicensed centers that provide pregnancy tests and pregnancy “counseling,” but do not offer any medical services. “We are simply requiring limited service pregnancy centers to disclose what is factual and true about the services they offer,” Council member Bill Spelman, who is sponsoring the ordinance, said in a press release. [bold type in original story as quoted.]

On Tuesday the Archdiocese of Baltimore filed a lawsuit against the City of Baltimore saying that the ordinance violated their right to freedom of speech and religion. The Austin Chronicle explains:

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To be clear, the Baltimore ordinance – like that proposed by Spelman (and co-sponsored by Laura Morrison and Mayor Pro Tem Mike Martinez) – defines the centers as “limited-service pregnancy centers” and requires only that those facilities that do not provide the range of reproductive health services post a notice to that effect. Indeed, as with the proposed Austin ordinance, the Baltimore law does not require any CPC to actually provide or make referrals for either of those services.

The Austin ordinance would likely apply to a handful of CPCs in the city, and is said by its authors not meant to hurt their businesses – rather, it is meant, as a “truth-in-advertising” law, to protect women, as consumers. “Regardless of how one feels about birth control or safe, legal abortion, this ordinance is about providing accurate information,” said Martinez.  [bold type in original story as quoted.]

The Texas state government provides some funding to CPCs through its “Alternatives to Abortion” program.

Indeed, in 2005 lawmakers took $5 million that would otherwise go to providers of traditional family-planning services for low-income women to create (via a budget rider) the new “Alternatives to Abortion” program, as a way to directly fund CPCs and task them with “promoting childbirth.” In a series of articles, the Chronicle found that the money hasn’t exactly done much to provide women with any real services – aside from referring them to other state and federal programs, and providing a nice annual raise for Vincent Friedewald, the executive director of the Texas Pregnancy Care Network, which administers the state contract. Still, in the 2009 session – a bad budget year – lawmakers allocated an additional $3 million over the biennium for the program, boosting the Alternative to Abortion budget by a whopping 60%.

In spending that money, the state-funded CPCs are not required to be licensed or regulated, nor are they required to provide any medical services at all. The city of Austin proposed ordinance is only seeking to make clear what services a woman can expect when visiting a CPC: “Women facing an unintended pregnancy need to understand what services are available to them,” Morrison said in a press release. “This ordinance helps ensure that.”

Sara Cleveland, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas released a statement:

NARAL Pro-Choice Texas has long worked to expose the deceptive practices of certain CPCs, publishing multiple research reports about them since 2005. Many CPCs list themselves in phone and online directories under the headings “abortion,” “abortion alternatives,” “family planning information centers” or “women’s health organization” even though the abortion service they provide is to dissuade women from exercising their right to choose by using anti-choice propaganda.

“We should all be able to agree with the ordinance’s goals of truth in advertising. Lines are crossed when a CPC is not up front about its services, or when a center uses misinformation,” continued Cleveland. NARAL Pro-Choice Texas investigated three centers in Austin, all of which gave misinformation about abortion or birth control and none of which would provide a referral, even for birth control.

You can read NARAL Pro-Choice Texas 2009 report on CPCs here.

News Law and Policy

Federal Appeals Court Reverses Block on Baltimore’s CPC ‘Truth-in-Advertising’ Law

Jessica Mason Pieklo

A federal appeals court ruled a lower court was wrong when it blocked a Baltimore law requiring crisis pregnancy centers to disclose that they are not actual medical facilities.

Last week the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals issued an important ruling in the battle over the business tactics used by so-called crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) to dissuade women from accessing abortion services.

CPCs frequently advertise themselves as clinics that provide a full range of reproductive health services, but in reality many are non-medical organizations that dissuade women from obtaining abortion and birth control services.  In addition to deceptive advertising, some centers provide factually inaccurate information to patients and disregard patient confidentiality. Baltimore was the first city in the nation to pass legislation requiring these centers to disclose that they neither refer for nor offer abortion services. The ordinance was passed after NARAL Pro-Choice Maryland Fund released an extensive report documenting the harms posed by these centers, which was featured heavily in the legal defense of the city’s law. The ordinance was the first of its kind in the country, and was soon followed by similar ordinances in Austin, San Francisco, New York City, and Montgomery County, Maryland.

In 2010 the ordinance was challenged by the Archbishop of Baltimore and the Greater Baltimore Center for Pregnancy Concerns, arguing the law was unconstitutional. The Center for Reproductive Rights joined the City of Baltimore to defend the ordinance. In January 2011, the district court granted summary judgment in favor of the CPC and its allies before the city was even able to submit evidence in support of its case. The city and CRR immediately appealed the ruling to the Fourth Circuit. A divided appellate panel later upheld the lower court’s decision to block the ordinance in June 2012, and just a few months later, the full circuit court agreed to re-hear the case.

Recognizing the substantial evidence amassed by the Baltimore City Council that crisis pregnancy centers often engage in deceptive business practices to dissuade women from obtaining contraception and abortion services, the full Fourth Circuit held that a lower court’s decision blocking the city’s truth-in-advertising ordinance for CPCs was inappropriate. The decision from the full appellate court remands the case back to Senior U.S. District Judge Marvin J. Garbis for further legal proceedings and discovery.

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“We welcome the opportunity to further expose the deceptive business practices of these crisis pregnancy centers and will continue to work alongside the City of Baltimore to ensure women seeking contraception and abortion have timely access to those services so they can make the best health care decisions for themselves and their families,” said Stephanie Toti, senior staff attorney at the Center for Reproductive Rights and co-counsel to the Baltimore City Law Department.

Jodi Finkelstein, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Maryland, praised the decision in a statement. “We support improving services for women who choose to continue their pregnancies, but a line is crossed when CPCs lie to women looking for comprehensive pregnancy-related information,” Finkelstein said.

The decision is significant as more and more state legislatures pass abortion restrictions that require providers to tell their patients deceptive and misleading information—about a link between abortion and breast cancer, for instance. While the Fourth Circuit’s decision does not affect those laws specifically, it does send a signal that lying to women to prevent them from accessing reproductive health care they need will not stand.

News Law and Policy

Fourth Circuit Reconsiders Baltimore’s Truth In Advertising Ordinance Targeting Crisis Pregnancy Centers

Jessica Mason Pieklo

Lawyers for the Center for Reproductive Rights and the City of Baltimore defended an ordinace that requires crisis pregnancy centers disclose they are not health clinics.

Lawyers for the City of Baltimore were in front of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals this week defending an ordinance that requires crisis pregnancy centers to post “truth in advertising” signs warning the centers do not provide or make referrals for abortion or comprehensive birth control services.

CPCs frequently advertise themselves as clinics that provide a full range of reproductive health services, but in practice are non-medical organizations that dissuade women from obtaining abortion and birth control services. In addition to deceptive advertising, some centers provide factually inaccurate information to patients and disregard patient confidentiality.

“The necessity of this consumer protection ordinance was demonstrated by serious and compelling public testimony and evidence of deception by CPCs in their offers of services. For example, CPCs in Baltimore advertise that they offer, ‘abortion and morning after pills’ when they do not provide or refer for those services,” said Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake. “Women and girls seeking pregnancy and contraception services should be allowed to make informed choices about where to go.  Having accurate information about what services a center offers is key.”

Not surprisingly, almost as soon as the ordinance was passed the CPC’s sued, arguing the requirement violates their free speech rights. The Center for Reproductive Rights joined the City of Baltimore to defend the ordinance. In January 2011, the district court granted summary judgment in favor of the CPC and its allies before the city was even able to submit evidence in support of its case, and the City and the Center immediately appealed the ruling to the Fourth Circuit. By granting a new hearing in the case, the full appeals court voided a June 2012 decision from a divided panel of judges striking down the ordinance, a decision one judge described as “indefensible” in his dissent

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“We appreciate that the en banc court was willing to consider this case and are hopeful that Baltimore’s consumer protection measure will be upheld,” stated Suzanne Sangree, the Chief Solicitor for Baltimore City who argued the case.

A decision from the Fourth Circuit is not expected for several months.

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