Friday, April 18, 2008

Session's Out for Summer...and Fall

From January to April, the streets of Annapolis fill with the hustle and bustle of elected officials and their grossly underpaid staff. Fundraising is put on the back burner (by force, mind you) so legislators can focus on the issues for three full months. And, oh, what issues they focus on! From cake (congrats to Smith Island Cake on your legislative victory) to protecting women from lies, there is by no means a shortage of sweets or controversy.

What was one of the most controversial issues this legislative session? Yup, you guessed it, crisis pregnancy centers. Senator Rich Madaleno and Delegate Roger Manno were friends to the women of Maryland once again and introduced the “Limited Service Pregnancy Center Disclaimer Act.” The bill would have done three things:

1.) Require crisis pregnancy centers to state that they are not medical clinics.
2.) Require crisis pregnancy centers to tell their clients to see a medical professional about their pregnancy options
3.) Require crisis pregnancy centers to say that they are not required to provide medically accurate information.

Holy cow! Did CPCs around the country go ballistic! Infuriated, they charged that we were trying to shut them down by destroying their credibility. I mean, how DARE we require them to tell clients that they aren’t medical clinics, shouldn’t be confused for doctors, and aren’t required to provide medically accurate information.

I’d like to address their moral indignation in three parts:

1.) You ARE NOT medical clinics.
2.) You ARE NOT medical professionals and are not qualified (or even good at) providing adequate counseling or having an honest discussion about real pregnancy options.
3.) You ARE NOT legally required to provide medically accurate information. Consumer protection laws don’t include free service providers. As long as you don’t charge a fee, YOU ARE LEGALLY ALLOWED TO LIE TO WOMEN.

The bill in no way aimed to shut CPCs down. The bill only required CPCs to be upfront about their qualifications for working with women. Instead of waiting in a CPC, a woman looking for an abortion can move on in the phone book and look for someone who can provide her with a comprehensive discussion about parenting, adoption, and abortion.

NARAL Pro-Choice Maryland Fund’s report on CPCs, “The Truth Revealed,” turned some heads in Annapolis. Pro-choice and mixed-choice legislators were inflamed by the stories. Even anti-choice officials were shocked by the report and began to question crisis pregnancy centers on their practices and accountability.

The bill received hearings in the Senate Finance Committee and House Health and Governmental Operations Committee. NARAL Pro-Choice Maryland staff, volunteers, and student activists testified at each and received positive reactions from committee leadership and members. Most likely, the testimony that got to them the most was when one volunteer spoke about being locked in a room with a counselor at one center she visited. Or it was the testimony about one CPC that told a volunteer that birth control was dangerous and she should start natural family planning. Or it was the one where the CPC told the volunteer that “birth control is ‘next to aborting your baby.’”

Perhaps MY favorite part about this legislative session is that the anti-choice forces were being pushed around finally. For once, they were the ones having to defend themselves. And it felt pretty great when they got cornered by their lies.

Something anti-choicers have yet to understand – after years and years of lobbying in Annapolis - is that legislators have a limit. A person can only sit still and listen to testimony after testimony for so long. After 6 hours of this, someone is going to crack. So when you parade 40 people in front of a committee, when your opposition only did 12, you’re not doing yourself any favors. Anti-choicers seem to be deluded into thinking more testimony means more support. But when 30 people say the same exact thing, it ticks legislators off. If you want to show widespread support, get people to write letters to the committee or call their legislators. Don’t waste everyone’s time with the same old story. Committee hearings are meant to give you the opportunity to present a substantive argument for supporting or opposing a bill. Repetition has no place here.

While the bill did not make it out of either committee, it’s important to know that it normally takes two or three years to make really good policy and have it passed. With a little more finesse, a little more force, some more coalition building, and encouragement of our legislators, the “Limited Service Pregnancy Center Disclaimer Act” has a real shot in 2009.


Mila said...

You guys did a fabulous job this session, especially with the CRC report! I have full confidence that the Limited Service Pregnancy Center Disclaimer Act will pass in the next legislative session or two. Its just so ironic to me that anti-choicers put so much effort in to making sure clinics tell women "the truth" about the abortion procedure and their options, yet are so indignant when they are asked to play by their own rules.

R.T. Riveter said...

I was really curious to see if this legislation would go anywhere, so thanks for the update. While I'm disappointed to see that CPCs were not held accountable for their deceitful actions, I am very happy to hear that you will still be working on the issue. I can only imagine what the anti-choice response was to this legislation- They are so convinced that they are right about the issue that they FAIL to see that the ends do not justify the means. Keep up the good work of exposing them for the over zealous liars that they are!

A. Paul said...

I also heard that anti-choicers were looking for a sponsor of a bill which would give $800,000 of taxpayer money to these fake clinics! they apparently found someone, who then (perhaps after reading the NARAL report, and becoming extremely ashamed of themself?) withdrew support and killed the bill. whew! antis spend so much time railing against government funding of abortions for low-income women, maybe its because they want that money to continue to lie to them about their reproductive choices?? in any case, they have been put on notice! good job guys