“Honest Reproductive Care” At Center of New York City Crisis Pregnancy Center Debate

Robin Marty

New York's city council debates regulating so called "Crisis Pregnancy Centers," requiring them to post signs stating they do not offer abortion services or referrals.

The New York City Council is preparing to make a ruling on whether so called crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) should be required to publicly state that they do not provide abortions, contraception, or referrals for either and whether or not they have qualified medical staff on site or are licensed medical facilities.  The new proposed regulations come on the heels of an extensive investigation of these centers by NARAL Pro-Choice New York, during which visits were made to multiple centers to observe the use of misleading and in some cases dangerous tactics to coerce women who are seeking to end their pregnancies into carrying to term.

Like CPCs in other areas that have been regulated by new local truth in advertising laws, New York CPCs are claiming that any sort of regulation is an intrusion on their freedom of speech.  However, the New York City Civil Liberties Union has now weighed in on the matter and says that there is no reason regulations should limit their free speech, and that women deserve to be protected from dishonesty when it comes to choosing reproductive care.

Via a press release statement:

“Crisis pregnancy centers are not licensed medical facilities, but women often believe that they are. When they deceive women about their services, people get hurt,” said NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman, who will testify before the Committee on Women’s Issues. “We believe that this legislation can be crafted to both protect the right to free speech and women’s right to have accurate information when they make critical decisions about their health.” 

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Women who have already decided to terminate a pregnancy but due to false advertising end up at a  a crisis pregnancy center rather than the actual medical center they intended to visit find themselves subjected to misinformation, abuse, and proselytizing in the name of “pregnancy assistance.”  As Dr. Lynette Leighton wrote in her own personal account on Rewire of helping a patient who mistakenly went to a CPC when intending to go to a reproductive health center:

Beliefs about abortion and reproductive health are all over the map. Some women in Michelle’s situation will choose parenting or adoption. But traumatizing women with misinformation doesn’t help anyone. Pregnant women need care and counseling based on medical evidence and compassion, not lies.

Staff at CPCs sometimes deceive women into delaying an abortion to the point where it is too late. As Dr. Anne Davis testified before the council:

Crisis pregnancy centers claim to give “unbiased, accurate information about the procedure to women considering it.” That is not what my patient Susan [not her real name] received. She went to a CPC in downtown Manhattan early in her second trimester, thinking that she could obtain an abortion there. The staff told Susan that she needed an ultrasound before the procedure. Then another ultrasound. They attributed the multiple tests to uncertainty about how advanced her pregnancy was. Because of these delays, Susan’s pregnancy progressed into the third trimester.
 
Susan was 32 weeks pregnant and still seeking an abortion when she consulted me at our hospital-based clinic. I had to tell her it was no longer possible: she was well beyond the legal limit for abortion in New York. Susan was shocked, as the “counselor” at the CPC had assured her she could have an abortion in the third trimester. Moreover, when I examined Susan, I found her case straightforward—one simple abdominal ultrasound would have dated her pregnancy easily. The CPC had no medical reason for keeping her waiting.

Should the new regulations pass, New York City would join Baltimore and Austin as cities requiring that CPCs post disclaimers.

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