The Hypocrisy of “Choice:” Dangerous Attempts to Limit Pregnant Women’s Options

On July 13, 2011, William H. Pauley III, United States District judge for the Southern District of New York, issued a preliminary injunction to New York City’s “Local Law 17,” an ordinance requiring “pregnancy services centers” to advertise, among other things, that they did not perform or refer for abortions. In The Evergreen Association Inc. v. City of New York, the court found that allowing the ordinance to go into effect would do irreparable harm to the pregnancy service centers by compelling them to convey the message specified by the city or face significant fines and/or closure of their facilities.

The New York case is not unique. So far, every court that has ruled on this type of legislation has ruled against it. Montgomery County, Maryland’s ordinance was partially enjoined on March 15, 2011, and on January 28, 2011, summary judgment was entered for the pregnancy service centers (also known as pregnancy resource centers [PRCs]) challenging Baltimore’s ordinance. That case, Greater Baltimore Center for Pregnancy Concerns, Inc. v. Baltimore, is currently on appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.

Despite the constitutional defects in these laws, pro-abortion organizations have the ear of some lawmakers, and laws targeting PRCs have recently been popping up throughout the nation. LLDF anticipated the campaign would shortly come to California, and encouraged California PRCs to be ready should such attempts be made at the state, county or city level. Thus, it was hardly a surprise when, on June 4, 2011, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that City Supervisor Malia Cohen is considering sponsoring this legislation. San Francisco has a total of two PRCs within its city limits.

What “Choice”?

Abortionists claim abortion is all about “choice,” and many who identify themselves as pro-choice acknowledge that abortion is a decision that should not be lightly undertaken. Research indicates that 30 to 60 percent of women who have abortions feel pressured by others to do so. Into these often ugly circumstances has stepped the PRC, women reaching out to freely provide resources and emotional support to pregnant women, empowering them to choose life for their unborn children. PRCs are the least controversial, most universally supported effort in which the pro-life community has invested. Even some who identify themselves as prochoice can support an effort that makes it possible for women to truly have a choice.

However, as the recent legislative attacks on PRCs demonstrate, the proabortion movement is about “choice” to approximately the same degree that the fast-food industry is about dieting.

The driving force behind the anti-PRC onslaught is NARAL Pro-Choice America (formally the National Association for Repeal of Abortion Laws), the organization famous for its unceasing, unprincipled efforts to legalize abortion beginning in 1969. NARAL describes PRCs as “fake clinics,” using loaded terms such as “propaganda,” “lure,” and “manipulate” to describe the advertising PRCs use and services they provide. Americans United for Life has aptly named this attack the “scarlet letter campaign,” for its attempt to brand PRCs as unprofessional, ideologydriven and manipulative.

According to NARAL Pro-Choice California, more than ninety percent of California’s counties have at least one PRC, compared with approximately fifty-nine percent that have at least one abortion provider. To NARAL, this exploding number of abortion alternatives is seriously alarming. If women suddenly become empowered to choose life for their children, abortion numbers could plummet. Thus, NARAL hast taken the offensive, conducting “undercover investigations” of PRCs, ferreting out the “hidden agenda” of these centers, and pressuring lawmakers to limit their effectiveness. Reading their reports makes it clear that they have come up empty handed in finding any real fraud or abuse at PRCs.

The worst they could show was that women were given the facts of fetal development and were warned of the risks abortion presents (abortion can affect future fertility, cause emotional trauma, possibly increase the risk of future disease, etc.), information that abortionists themselves should be providing to women in the process of gaining their purportedly “informed” consent to the abortion. At PRC’s these discussions take place in a non-judgmental environment, often by lay counselors. The counselors are sometimes women who have undergone abortions themselves speaking from their own firsthand experiences.

Why Oppose “disclose” Legislation?

Far from a secret desire to misrepresent the facts, PRCs are not afraid to tell women the truth. They do not wish to hide the fact that they do not provide abortions, nor do they wish to manipulate women into coming to their clinics. After all, their services are usually free, and they exist because of a sincere desire to provide the best possible help for those they serve. Most PRCs are affiliated with national PRC umbrella organizations and adhere to detailed professional and procedural guidelines.

PRCs oppose NARAL’s brand of legislation for several practical reasons. First, it is a waste of time for everyone involved. Women do not to be protected from hearing all their options. Even if a woman went to a PRC thinking that it was an abortion clinic, she would not be harmed by hearing that help is available if she wishes to keep her child.

Second this type of legislation is a focused attack on PRCs’ credibility. The goal is not to protect women; it is to stigmatize the pro-life message by associating it with fraudulent practices.

Third, it hinders the PRCs’ effectiveness in reaching their target audience. As the New York court pointed out, if required to put disclaimers on all advertisements, PRCs will be priced out of their ability to advertise, as well as being required to present a message other than their own viewpoint, leaving their right to free speech in shambles.

Finally, the type of “disclosures” required by these ordinances vary from ordinance to ordinance, but are all onerous. Some have included the following: signs of specified size in English and Spanish posted in entryways and waiting rooms stating, among other things, whether the center provides abortion or contraception, or referrals for such, whether there is a licensed medical provider on staff, and that the health department encourages women to consult with a licensed medical provider. These disclosures must be included in all printed advertisements, and must be stated orally whether in person or telephone communications. Penalties for non-compliance can be heavy. In New York City, first violations result in a fine of between $200 and $1000, and additional violations incur penalties between $500 and $2000 and/or temporary closure of the clinic. Other cities have made violations a misdemeanor offense.

Meeting the Challenge

Whatever the motivation and effect of these laws, experience has shown they are not impossible to defeat, both at the legislative level and upon judicial review. National PRC affiliates Heartbeat International, CareNet, and NIFLA (National Institute of Family and Life Advocates) have successfully prevented the passage of Anti-PRC laws in several states. Anti-PRC legislation was introduced in both the Washington and Oregon legislatures in early 2011. In both instances, the measures failed to get out of committee. Supporters flooded the hearings with witnesses testifying to the good work of PRCs, and the help they have provided for countless women and families. Working together, they demonstrated the true nature of PRCs, and effectively debunked the myths NARAL was attempting to perpetrate.

When this legislation was proposed in Virginia in 2010, the evidence was so onesided that both houses of the legislature not only rejected the NARAL proposal, but passed a resolution honoring PRCs, noting that they “encourage women to make positive life choices by equipping them with complete and accurate information regarding their pregnancy options and the development of their unborn children” and “provide women with compassionate and confidential peer counseling in a nonjudgmental manner regardless of their pregnancy outcomes.”

LLDF is committed to partnering with California PRCs to defeat these attacks. Katie Short, LLDF Legal Director, stated, “Forewarned is forearmed. As shown by the experience in other states, we can defeat these discriminatory laws, and LLDF stands ready to work with PRCs to do so. Those who sacrificially give of themselves to offer a true choice to women deserve not to be stigmatized, but to be commended for their life-saving work.”