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ALLOTT: First Amendment protection for pro-lifers
Abortion providers losing battle to mislabel pregnancy clinics
Imagine if, the next time President Obama delivers a speech on health care reform, he were legally required to preface his remarks by stating, "I'm Barack Obama, and I have no experience running a hospital or health care system."
You don't need a law degree to recognize that even if the statement is true, the requirement would be a clear violation of the First Amendment's guarantee of free speech.
Mr. Obama is probably safe from ever having to make such a disclosure. Not so for thousands of pregnancy resource centers (PRCs) across the country. Abortion rights legislators are waging a campaign to put PRCs out of business by passing laws that create special speech rules for the pro-life centers. However, armed with the Constitution and testimony from women who have been helped by their free services, PRCs are fighting back - and winning.
Late last month, a Baltimore city ordinance requiring PRCs to post signs telling clients that they do not offer abortions or birth control was struck down by a federal judge. The ruling came in response to a lawsuit filed last March by the Catholic Archdiocese of Baltimore.
"Whether a provider of pregnancy-related services is 'pro-life' or 'pro-choice,' " the judge wrote in his decision, "it is for the provider - not the government - to decide when and how to discuss abortion and birth control methods." Or, as Mark Rienzi,plaintiffs' counsel in the case and a law professor at Catholic University, told me, "There is no abortion exception to the First Amendment."
Unfortunately, the threat from anti-PRC laws is escalating: At least a dozen anti-PRC bills have been considered at various levels of government over the past couple of years.
A 2010 Montgomery County, Md., law requires the county's nonmedical pregnancy centers to post signs essentially telling clients that they are not legitimate health clinics and that pregnant women should seek services elsewhere. Noncompliance could lead to fines of up to $750 a day. One of the centers affected, Centro Tepeyac Women's Center of Silver Spring, sued Montgomery County over the law. A ruling is pending.
New proposals in Washington state and New York City would force PRCs to post disclosures not only in their centers but also on their websites and in all advertisements.
The Baltimore ruling is a huge blow to abortion rights groups, which have long claimed that PRCs lure abortion-minded women into their clinics, confuse them with false information about the health risks associated with abortion and shame them into not aborting by showing them fetal development models and ultrasound images of their babies.
But no proof of any coercion or deception has ever been produced. I reviewed several pamphlets given to women at PRCs. They are evenhanded in their discussions of even the most contentious issues, including the possible links between abortion and breast cancer and abortion and depression.
For instance, regarding the breast cancer link, "Before You Decide," a pamphlet offered by PRCs affiliated with CareNet, a network of 1,100 PRCs, says, "Medical experts continue to debate the association between abortion and breast cancer." It also says, "A number of reliable studies have concluded that there is an association between abortion and the later development of breast cancer." All of this is true.
A study last year in the journal Cancer Epidemiology concluded that an abortion can triple a woman's subsequent risk of developing breast cancer. A 2009 study co-authored by Dr. Louise Brinton of the National Cancer Institute found that induced abortion may increase a woman's risk of breast cancer.
PRCs provide a range of services - pregnancy tests, adoption referrals and sonograms, job training, legal help, mentoring programs and material support such as diapers and baby clothes. All of it is free for the women.
In contrast, the services provided by Planned Parenthood and other abortion facilities can be lucrative for the facilities. According to data released recently by the Guttmacher Institute, the averageamount paid for a non-hospital abortion with local anesthesia at 10 weeks' gestation is $451. The median charge for an abortion at 20 weeks' gestation is $1,500.
Those fees add up quickly for Planned Parenthood, whose hundreds of thousands of abortions annually make it America's largest abortion provider. According to its Internal Revenue Service Form 990 tax filing, Planned Parenthood's fiscal 2009 net profit was $21.7 million. Planned Parenthood receives more than $350 million yearly in taxpayer-funded grants and contracts.
It's no mystery why PRCs are being attacked: They're taking business away from the abortion industry by offering women with unplanned pregnancies the resources and encouragement they need to choose life. Their existence is perhaps the main reason whythe number of annual abortions has decreased 25 percent, from 1.6 million 1.2 million over the past two decades, according to Guttmacher.
The more than 3,000 national PRCs outnumber the dwindling number of abortion facilities. A recent Harvard study found that the number of Planned Parenthood affiliates has dropped from 163 in 1994 to 91 in 2009.
The Baltimore law isn't the only anti-PRC bill to run into trouble. Bills in Virginia, Maryland and Oregon, as well as a proposed federal law, have all failed to become law. Virginia is particularly illustrative of the effect PRCs are having.
Last year, a number of anti-PRC laws were proposed in the commonwealth's House and Senate. Not one made it out of its respective committee in either house. In fact, the bills were dismissed almost immediately after legislators heard testimony from pregnancy center directors, former clients and medical staff.
Then, a few weeks later, both houses passed a resolution praising the work of Virginia's 52 pro-life pregnancy centers.
The abortion industry's contention that PRCs don't meet the reproductive health needs of women with unplanned pregnancies is eroding in the face of reality. As Virginia Cline, public relations director at Heartbeat International, which assists more than 900 PRCs nationwide, told me, "We just have a very different view of what reproductive health means."
Daniel Allott is senior writer at American Values and a Washington fellow with the National Review Institute.
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