- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 3, 2002

NEW YORK Although a month has passed since New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer crafted a symbolic compromise with the state's crisis pregnancy centers, both sides say the battle is far from over.
America's 3,000 crisis pregnancy centers, which for the most part are run by Christian groups, work to offer alternatives to abortion.
Their presence is contested by groups such as the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League, which offers a "Choice Action Kit" on its Web site (www.naral.org) showing activists how to "unmask fake clinics." NARAL backed Mr. Spitzer, a Democrat, during his 1998 campaign for attorney general. In turn, Mr. Spitzer created a government "reproductive rights unit," headed by Jennifer Brown, a former American Civil Liberties Union attorney and former New York City chapter president of the National Organization for Women.
In January, Mr. Spitzer issued subpoenas to 10 crisis pregnancy centers around the state on the grounds they were misrepresenting the nature of the services they provided and practicing medicine without a license. The subpoenas, which had Miss Brown as a co-signer, received nationwide publicity and were slammed by the Catholic bishop of Buffalo, N.Y., the attorney general of South Carolina and the Nassau County, N.Y., attorney general, among others.
On Feb. 28, Mr. Spitzer withdrew the subpoenas after his office reached an agreement with one of the centers, an agency near Rochester, N.Y., that is open four hours a week.
Darren Dopp, spokesman for Mr. Spitzer, says the attorney general is in "productive discussions" with four of the crisis pregnancy centers with "encouraging" results.
"A number of folks said, 'We'd come in and talk with you if you withdraw the subpoenas,' and we've already seen a conduct change we see as positive," Mr. Dopp says. "Now they appear to be making a greater effort to be careful about their counseling."
Meanwhile, two congressmen are preparing resolutions to back crisis pregnancy centers. H.R. 302, sponsored by Rep. Bob Schaffer, Colorado Republican, has 61 co-sponsors. Mr. Schaffer, a board member of a center in Fort Collins, Colo., says his resolution offers Congress "the opportunity to make a positive statement about the importance of crisis pregnancy centers to the women of America."
Another resolution, H.R. 3686, offered by Rep. Cliff Stearns, Florida Republican, backs a $3 million grant from the Department of Health and Human Services for the purchase of ultrasound equipment by nonprofit organizations. Crisis pregnancy centers and other groups would get $20,000 or one-half the purchase price of an ultrasound machine, whichever is less. Ultrasound machines often are employed by abortion opponents to persuade pregnant women to view their developing fetuses.
Both bills first must make it through the House Energy and Commerce health subcommittee.
Meanwhile, Chris Slattery still is engaged in what he terms the "South Bronx abortion battle."
His Expectant Mother Care center, which he founded and now directs, is in a second-floor office off 149th Street, a grimy hodgepodge of small stores and fast-food eateries crammed into drab gray, brown and red brick buildings.
"Malika," a Hispanic 18-year-old who is six months pregnant, lingers in the waiting room. Wearing gray tights, a tight black jacket and a short plaid black-and-white skirt along with delicately sculpted green, red and white fingernails, she looks barely 15 years old.
She said she was looking for an abortion clinic when she encountered Liz Nazario, one of Mr. Slattery's counselors.
"I asked her if this was an abortion clinic," the young woman says, "but she said it was an abortion alternative. The baby's father said, 'Let's get out of here,' so I decided to leave."
But she was back the next day, having decided that she wanted to hear more. Malika had an abortion when she was 14, after a boyfriend raped her.
She was shown two anti-abortion movies, then given a free sonogram and a book, "What to Expect when You're Expecting."
"They treat you like queens and princesses here," Malika said. "Liz didn't tell me I had to keep my child. But I felt guilt. Not only would I hurt my child but my body itself. You feel different when you know life is inside of you. Every night I cry and say, 'What was I planning to do?'"
Malika and others like her are drawn there by the center's neon sign: "Abortion Gratis Alternativas/Se Habla Espanol." The first three words (Abortion Free Alternatives) are stacked atop each other.
"They say we intentionally split the words to be confusing," Mr. Slattery says. But abortions are plentiful in New York, he says, and an abortion clinic is readily available across the street. A one-minute stroll to the next building reveals that, sure enough, a heavily guarded Planned Parenthood clinic is on the second floor. A receptionist in a blue-walled waiting area gives a brochure to a visitor.
The Bronx crisis pregnancy center operates on a $600,000 budget that supports three full-time counselors, a sonogram technician, Mr. Slattery and 20 volunteers, including two nuns. The receptionist, a burly Puerto Rican named Ishmael Rodriguez, says he was a truck driver and gigolo who helped 20 girlfriends get abortions before he became a "born-again Catholic."
The Bronx center and four others work out of three city boroughs. Its workers saw 4,000 women last year, 2,900 of whom were pregnant. Two thousand of these women decided to give birth. Mr. Slattery charges that Planned Parenthood and other abortion clinics get volunteers to perform pregnancy tests, while the state prosecutes crisis pregnancy centers that do the same thing.
He has mapped out 80 abortion clinics in New York's five boroughs. "We have 10 CPCs, so we are outnumbered 8-to-1," he says.
Mr. Dopp says Expectant Mother Care is one of the crisis pregnancy centers targeted by the attorney general.
"These CPC volunteers can hand out a pregnancy kit, but they are not supposed to diagnose a pregnancy," he says, "nor provide medical advice. We are supposed to enforce consumer laws: no medical counseling nor bringing people into your office under false pretenses."
But Mr. Slattery says the attorney general wants to monitor even how workers answer the phone.
"They want us to say, 'We don't do abortions' or 'We don't do abortion referrals,'" he says. "What do they want us to call ourselves: anti-abortion-don't-come-here centers?
"This fight is about freedom of speech to say what we choose. If a woman wants to do an abortion, she'll quickly find out we do not. They can walk out anytime, and some of them do bolt out. But we've never been sued by any of these women, saying they've been harassed."


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