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NATIONAL NEWS | spring 2008

Truth Serum
If bill passes, “crisis pregnancy centers” must own up to what they are

THE MARYLAND STATE legislature is considering a bill to make crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs)—anti-choice organizations disguised as reproductive-health clinics— more transparent. It would require them to state that they are not medical centers and are not providing factual medical information. At least two other states, Texas and West Virginia, are considering similar bills.

Just last year, the Maryland Catholic Conference was pushing the state’s governor and legislature to introduce a bill providing almost $1 million in state and federal funding for CPCs. That prompted NARAL Pro-Choice Maryland to investigate 11 CPCs, finding that all used misinformation and emotional manipulation to prevent women from considering abortions. After the results were published, the Conference quietly stopped lobbying for the funding

The Maryland study squares with a 2006 investigation by Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), in which he found that 87 percent of CPCs receiving federal funding across the country gave false or misleading information about abortion. Waxman documented that the U.S. government has provided $30 million to CPCs since 2001.

According to the Maryland data, 54 percent of the CPCs overstated the risks of abortion, linking it to breast cancer and “post-abortion stress syndrome”— a conglomeration of depression and anxiety symptoms not recognized by the American Psychological Association. Pamphlets warning of those risks were found in 81 percent of the CPCs investigated. None of the centers provided referrals for birth control; one CPC volunteer said she couldn’t give a referral because that would be “next to aborting your baby.”

The Maryland study found that CPCs use various tactics to delay a woman’s decision about abortion, from encouraging sonograms (but then postponing appointments for weeks until there’s a fetal heartbeat) to suggesting that women wait and see if they miscarry naturally. Women were congratulated on positive pregnancy tests, but berated when they brought up abortion.

The bill would not, as opponents have argued, force the centers to shut down. “All we’re asking is that they clarify that they’re not medical centers,” explains Ariana Kelly, executive director of the NARAL Pro-Choice Maryland Fund.

If the bill does reach the floor it has a good chance of passage, since Maryland has a mostly pro-choice legislature and a pro-choice governor. “Even if it doesn’t pass, it has drawn attention to what crisis pregnancy centers are doing,” says Kelly. “Women are being taken advantage of at a very vulnerable period in their lives.”