Pro-life pregnancy centers are battling back after unprecedented legislative attacks . . .
They provide millions of dollars in free services to women and infants each year, yet pro-life pregnancy resource centers across the country are facing a new wave of attacks from pro-abortion forces bent on challenging their very existence.
Legislators and the abortion lobby, in an effort they claim springs from a desire to protect the clients who use such centers, are seeking to place onerous restrictions on pregnancy centers in several cities and states.
Managing the crisis
Abortion advocates claim the centers often mislead clients by “masquerading” as health clinics, failing to provide women with information about all options available to them.
“It’s an old charge,” said Peggy Hartshorn, a member of Legatus’ Columbus Chapter and president of Heartbeat International, which serves more than 1,100 affiliated pregnancy help centers, maternity homes and nonprofit adoption agencies worldwide.
Hartshorn said such allegations date to the 1980s. The pro-life movement initially responded by making pregnancy centers more professional. In some cases, centers acquired ultrasound equipment and became clinics. Currently, about half the pregnancy resource centers in the U.S. offer ultrasounds, Hartshorn said.
But the abortion lobby hasn’t given up its quest to crack down on the centers. In 2000, NARAL Pro-Choice America’s report “Unmasking Fake Clinics” outlined strategies for sending women posing as clients into pregnancy centers to gather “evidence” that would show the need for regulations.
At the outset, pro-abortion groups set their sights on national and state legislation, but garnered little success. Proposed bills in both Oregon and Maryland were defeated. But within the last two years, they’ve turned their attention to city and county regulations.
In Baltimore, a law passed by the city council required pregnancy centers to post signs in English and Spanish saying they don’t refer for abortion or birth control. But in a Jan. 28 ruling, a federal judge declared the law “unenforceable,” saying it was the provider’s responsibility, not the government’s, to decide when and how to discuss abortion and birth control methods.
Although the decision, which is being appealed, is considered an important victory for pregnancy centers, it doesn’t end the matter, said Thomas Glessner, president of the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA), which provides legal counsel and training to 1,200-plus crisis pregnancy centers nationwide. “It’s the only precedent out there right now, but it’s in the Fourth Circuit and not binding on other circuits.”
Meanwhile, an even more restrictive law was passed March 2 in New York City, where more than 41% of pregnancies end in abortion. A similar, but even more restrictive law in Washington failed to pass the state House on March 7.
New York City’s law requires pregnancy resource centers to post statements in their buildings, on websites and in all advertising and literature saying they don’t provide abortions, emergency contraception or prenatal care. Centers also have to state whether their services are under the supervision of a licensed medical provider.
A similar measure in Austin, Texas, grants an exemption to centers that operate as medical clinics. All pregnancy centers in that city have been upgraded to that status.
Hartshorn said more than 20 centers, most of them Heartbeat affiliates, would fall under the New York City law. Among them is Pregnancy Help in Manhattan. Legatus member Veronique Monier, chair of the center’s board, said Pregnancy Help is already very transparent about the services it provides — including pregnancy tests and information on abortion procedures and pregnancy options.
“We listen to clients and we present them the different options,” Monier said. “People all around these women tell them they have only one option, which is abortion. We just open the options for them. We show them they have a real choice to make.”
The current attacks will ultimately strengthen pregnancy centers, Hartshorn said. Wherever they occur, she said, “we’re there on the ground trying to help and support our pregnancy centers. We’re also trying to prepare them by making sure they’re complying with all laws and regulations — local, state and national — so they’re as strong as they can possibly be and not vulnerable to attack.”
Heartbeat is also trying to be proactive by letting legislators know about the good that pregnancy centers are doing in their communities. Through the Babies Go to Congress program, Heartbeat takes mothers, babies and pregnancy center directors to visit legislators in state capitals and Washington, D.C.
“We try to focus on the real benefit to maternal and child health provided in the community at no cost to the taxpayer,” Hartshorn said.
Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), mother of five and foster mother of 23, received such a visit from a Heartbeat delegation in January. Her staff then posted photos of the event on Bachmann’s Facebook page and website.
Bachmann told Legatus Magazine that pregnancy resource centers offer the foremost alternative to Planned Parenthood.
“Pregnancy centers do not have to provide abortions, contraception or make referrals for these services,” she said. “They simply are not the same type of facility as a Planned Parenthood-style facility and do not have any obligation to act like one.” Furthermore, she added, “pregnancy centers largely operate without tax money and simply provide a choice to women. We should question, ‘Why would the abortion advocates be against choice?’”
Another strategy effectively countering the abortion lobby’s attacks on pregnancy centers is being championed by Kathleen Eaton, founder and CEO of Birth Choice Health Clinics.
A member of Legatus’ Orange Coast Chapter, Eaton has developed a pro-life medical model that she says can “go nose-to-nose with Planned Parenthood,” which offers a range of women’s health services and is also the nation’s No. 1 abortion provider.
In Southern California where Birth Choice operates six full-service clinics, Eaton said pro-abortion groups have gone after pregnancy resource centers, but not her facilities — even though Birth Choice doesn’t provide abortion and contraception. She believes this is because her facilities are licensed community medical clinics subject to state regulations, and as such aren’t vulnerable to accusations that they falsely present themselves as clinics.
Birth Choice Clinics will soon open clinics in the Napa Valley and Hollywood. Eaton is also working with a network of Birth Choice clinics in Southern California and Oklahoma, and she’s drawn interest from people wanting to open clinics in several other states.
Eaton encourages pregnancy resource centers to investigate becoming licensed clinics and to raise their level of services. By offering medical services similar to those provided at Planned Parenthood clinics, she said, Birth Choice is reaching sexually active young people and those most likely to consider abortion.
“We can’t overturn Roe v. Wade right now,” Eaton said, “but we can get young people out of Planned Parenthood and into a medical clinic that deals with the whole person.”
Judy Roberts is a Legatus Magazine staff writer.