NY City targets pregnancy centers as part of 'nationwide strategy'

Councilmember Jessica Lappin Christopher Bell Good Council Inc CNA US Catholic News 10 19 10 Christopher Bell / Jessica Lappin

The New York City Council has proposed legislation that would sharply regulate crisis pregnancy centers that do not provide abortion and contraception.

Opponents said the proposed regulations would violate their rights to free speech and “cripple” the mission of pro-life centers. Pro-life advocates say the New York proposal follows a pattern similar to proposals elsewhere in the country and may reflect a “nationwide strategy” on the part of abortion advocates.

Councilmember Jessica Lappin, primary sponsor of the bill introduced Oct. 12, said crisis pregnancy centers are “anti-choice centers masquerading as health clinics.”

The Manhattan Democrat charges that the centers are not licensed medical facilities and generally do not have a licensed medical staff on site.

“They have staff or volunteers who have an agenda that they are trying to push,” she said.

Lappin’s bill would require centers to disclose whether they provide abortions, contraception or referrals for these procedures and services.

Centers that do not offer such services or have licensed medical personnel on site would be required to post that information at their facilities’ entrances as well as in waiting rooms and in advertisements. The new ordinance would impose fines ranging from $250 to $2,500 for violations.

Lappin charged that many crisis pregnancy centers are “set up purposely across the street from Planned Parenthood or in the same building as those clinics to try and confuse women and draw them in.”

Planned Parenthood is the largest abortion provider in the United States. According to Lappin’s official website, before running for office she was a “trained clinic escort for Planned Parenthood.”

And critics say the proposal is part of an effort to target and harass pro-life groups that have opposed Planned Parenthood’s agenda.

It is “part of a national strategy by Planned Parenthood and NARAL to attack pro-life pregnancy centers,” said Christopher Bell, co-founder with Father Benedict Groeschel, CFR, of Good Counsel Inc., which operates with “maternity homes” for mothers and babies before and after birth.

He told CNA that similar proposals have “failed miserably” in several other state legislatures, but the proposals have won approval in Washington, D.C., Baltimore and Montgomery County, Md.

Backers of the New York proposal have charged that women visiting the crisis pregnancy centers were given “factually inaccurate information” and were “forced to watch videos.”

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who backs the proposal, said it simply requires “truth in advertising” from pro-life groups.

However, Bell said that the proposal appears also to target maternity homes trying to offer “free, low-cost services to women in a crisis pregnancy.” He charged that Planned Parenthood and the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League were working “to limit the options of women to just abortion.”

While proponents say the bill regulates crisis pregnancy centers, their materials have also listed Good Counsel maternity homes as such a center despite the nature of their work.

This fact, in Bell’s view, proves that “a lot” of the council’s information is “dubious at best and outright false at worst.”

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He also questioned why there was no reaction to the investigations of the pro-life group Live Action, which has filmed Planned Parenthood staff advising underage girls how they may have abortions so that their parents do not learn they were allegedly impregnated by much-older men.

NARAL Pro-Choice New York has also targeted Expectant Mother Care (EMC) Frontline Pregnancy Centers. The organization runs 12 pro-life counseling centers for pregnant women.

Its president, Chris Slattery, called the proposal an “outrageous attack on the First Amendment rights of law-abiding, helpful resource centers.”

He said that EMC has saved over 38,000 women from abortions in the last 25 years. Because of this, Slattery thought, the New York City Council will “particularly focus its slanderous accusations against us.”

“We serve the abortion-bound clients they want to stop us from reaching.”

He charged that the proposal was a “set of unconstitutional laws to cripple our work with a new free speech-strangling bill to strictly regulate our advertising and outreach with the threats of staggering fines, and probable shutdowns of our offices aimed at crippling our work of ministry to abortion minded clients.”

Bell also warned that the legislation compels speech and is so broad that anyone counseling or aiding a pregnant woman could come under its jurisdiction “so that they can begin to write regulations on what you have to say and can’t say.”

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“We’re not going to tolerate that,” said Bell.