- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 2, 2002

New York State Attorney General Elliot L. Spitzer has withdrawn subpoenas issued in January to organizations that operate two dozen pro-life pregnancy counseling centers, but he says this does not mean they were not practicing medicine without a license or using deceptive means to attract pregnant women.

Instead, Mr. Spitzer's office said that he has signed a consent decree with one of the centers and hopes to reach similar settlements with the others.

Darren Dopp, spokesman for Mr. Spitzer's office, warns that the subpoenas "could be re-issued" if the attorney general is unable to reach negotiated agreements, like the accord announced Thursday with Birthright of Victor, New York, Inc., with other pregnancy centers that were the focus of his investigation.

"The prospect of litigation and continuing controversy doesn't serve anyone's best interests," Mr. Dopp said in a telephone interview.

"It's our hope" that the outcome of the talks with Birthright "serves as a model" for future negotiations with the other centers, he added.

Under the settlement with the attorney general, Birthright said it would:

•Make it clear to potential clients that it does not provide abortions or refer women for abortions or birth control.

•Inform clients, orally and in writing, that it is not a licensed medical facility.

•Not solicit, accept or collect urine specimens for the purpose of administering urine pregnancy tests and will not administer any such test.

Centers that received the subpoenas in January have previously called the state probe politically motivated, citing Mr. Spitzer's ties with the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League.

The centers responded to the subpoenas, which sought the names of staffers and their credentials, training materials, and copies of all policies and procedures pertaining to client referrals, by filing motions to dismiss them.

In their motions, the crisis pregnancy centers contended the subpoenas violated their First Amendment rights by seeking to eliminate constitutionally protected free speech.

Vincent McCarthy, senior counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice, a pro-life public interest law firm that is representing Expectant MotherCare, which has five centers in New York City, called the news that the subpoenas have been withdrawn "an unexpected victory for the crisis pregnancy centers and the First Amendment," when he first learned about it late Thursday.

But James McFadden, an assistant at one of the Expectant MotherCare centers, said he is not celebrating.

"We're not pleased. … The battle is far from over," he said.

Mr. McFadden charged that Mr. Spitzer "used the power of his office" to negotiate a settlement with one of the smallest and weakest of the 24 pregnancy centers in hopes that the agreement would cause the others to relent.

"The Attorney General's Office is trying to dictate the centers' communication with prospective clients and to dissuade pregnant women from coming to the centers," Mr. McFadden said.

Asked about Mr. McFadden's concerns, Mr. McCarthy said yesterday he is "still pleased" the subpoenas have been withdrawn.

He did not see anything objectionable in what he read in news accounts about the consent decree signed by Birthright.

Asked whether Expectant MotherCare will likely sign such a decree, he said, "It depends on what's in it. … The attorney general wants to impose some conditions. We have to see whether we can live with them."

Mr. Dopp said the settlement Mr. Spitzer's office reached with Birthright is proof that accusations the attorney general wanted to either shut down or silence pro-life pregnancy centers were untrue.

He said the probe was in response to complaints that the centers were practicing medicine without a license purportedly telling some women how far along their pregnancies were and that they were deceiving pregnant women into thinking they offered a variety of reproductive services, including abortion.


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