What comes to mind when you hear the phrase "crisis pregnancy center"? For those unfamiliar with the concept, it might sound like a place to get assistance for an unwanted pregnancy. This assumption would be partially correct. CPCs do offer pregnancy tests and counseling on abortion alternatives. What they don't offer is abortion care, referrals or even accurate information pertaining to abortion or birth control.
In fact, CPCs are run by reproductive rights opponents, and their main purpose is to stop women from considering abortion. These centers have been justly criticized by organizations like NOW and NARAL for spreading myths that have little factual basis. For instance, CPCs claim that: birth control pills are unsafe (fact: most women can use birth control pills safely); condoms don't protect against Sexually Transmitted Diseases (fact: correct use of condoms reduces the transmission of various STDs); abortion increases the risk of breast cancer (fact: the National Cancer Institute begs to differ); and abortion causes psychological trauma known as post-abortion syndrome (fact: the American Psychological Association and Johns Hopkins University state that there are no credible studies supporting this assertion).
It is absolutely necessary that every pregnant woman be given accurate information regarding her options, including abortion. A woman has the right to make an informed decision on whether or not to carry her pregnancy to term, and she should not be misled by biased information given out by non-medical sources.
Recently, Montgomery County (Md.) Council member (and longtime NOW member) Duchy Trachtenberg introduced legislation that would require CPCs to provide a verbal disclaimer or put up signs in English and Spanish clearly stating that the center will not be providing medical advice or establishing a doctor-patient relationship, and that clients should contact a qualified health care professional.
The regulation would not force CPCs to cease providing their services, and CPCs would be completely free to counsel women who choose to continue a pregnancy. If Trachtenberg's initiative passes it might serve as a template for future legislative efforts in other areas. It will also be the second law of this kind, the first being Baltimore City's Limited Service Pregnancy Center Disclaimers Bill .
The request seems logical enough. However, Trachtenberg's proposal has come under fire from conservative groups, who view it as a politically-motivated move that would harass non-profit organizations that provide "pro-life" alternatives to abortion. Other critics -- including The Washington Post, which ran an editorial opposing the legislation -- say that the bill is unfair because it doesn't require abortion clinics to post similar disclaimers saying they don't provide counseling to women who decide to give birth.
In a letter to the editors of The Post, NOW President Terry O'Neill addressed their concerns:
"Health care providers are already required by their oaths to tell their patients the truth, and this is supported by the licensing practices of the state. A doctor asked by a patient for a referral to an adoption service will receive one, and no physician or assistant needs to be told to inform their patients truthfully. The same cannot be said by those set up specifically in pursuit of a political agenda."
In response to claims that requiring CPCs to put up disclaimers is outright harassment, Baltimore City Council President Stephanie Rawlings-Blake had the following to say: "It's a simple sign that you can make on your computer and printer in five minutes. It doesn't say anything other than what is true about the centers."
Then, there is also the fact that in Montgomery County and around the country, CPCs outnumber family planning clinics. If CPCs want to give out erroneous information and propaganda about contraceptives and abortion, the least they can do is to encourage women to also consult a real health care provider.
Myth Watch: Examples of Misleading Information Women Receive at CPCs
Beware of Anti-abortion Crisis Pregnancy Centers