By Jenny Blasdell and John Nugent
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.
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.