New Washington state bill could have 'chilling effect' on pregnancy centers

New Washington state bill could have 'chilling effect' on pregnancy centers

Jim Thomas, Director of Adult Faith Formation for Catholic Social Teaching and Family Life for the Archdiocese of Seattle.
Jim Thomas, Director of Adult Faith Formation for Catholic Social Teaching and Family Life for the Archdiocese of Seattle.


NARAL Pro-Choice Washington and Planned Parenthood are supporting legislation that could have a “chilling effect” on faith-based pregnancy centers in the state of Washington, says a pro-life nurse who will testify against the bill in an upcoming legislative hearing.

The new Washington State bill, “Concerning Limited Service Pregnancy Centers” (HB 2837/SB 6452), will be heard in the Senate Health and Long Term Care Committee on Jan. 27.

Paula Cullen, RN, founding director of Life Services of Spokane, plans to testify on Jan. 27 and told CNA on Monday that the new bills “attempt to regulate pregnancy centers” and would have “a very chilling effect on their ability to help women.”

Explaining some of the details of the legislation and how it would affect pregnancy centers in the state of Washington, Cullen said that if passed, it would require them to “provide reproductive health care according to standards set by Planned Parenthood” and groups like it.

According to Cullen, the bill would also require increased administrative regulations that could paralyze their efforts. An example of this, Cullen explained that pregnancy centers might be forced to post signs on their front doors and throughout their facilities saying that they do not provide abortions or any family planning services that Planned Parenthood and the like provide.

“That is a deterrent to any woman who's considering her options,” said Cullen. “We already disclose what we do and don't do through forms that we have women read and sign.”

NARAL Pro-Choice Washington's support for the bill was confirmed in a Jan. 13 press release that alleged, “Women who have sought help from such centers have gone there believing they were going to receive medical care and unbiased pregnancy options counseling from licensed professionals. Instead, they often received false or misleading information about abortion, pregnancy, contraception, or sexually transmitted infections, had their requested medical records withheld, and were denied needed referrals for reproductive health care.”

Washington state Rep. Judy Clibborn (D-Wash.) also explained in the press release that the new legislation “isn't about burdening the centers. It's about establishing standards for transparency and accuracy for high quality care.”

Cullen countered these claims by noting there is a difference between pregnancy resource centers and pregnancy medical centers and that each comply with state law and medical accuracy standards.

“The medical pregnancy centers always work under the supervision and direction of a licensed physician,” Cullen stressed. “That is always the case.” Further legislative requirements for standards of accuracy are “unnecessary,” the pro-life nurse said.

The Attorney General's Office has also estimated the bill will cost Washington taxpayers more than a half million over the next four years.

Jim Thomas, Director of Adult Faith Formation for Catholic Social Teaching and Family Life for the Archdiocese of Seattle, sent CNA a statement which described another requirement of the new legislation.

Pregnancy centers would be expected to “inform a woman that she is about to receive an over the counter pregnancy test and allow her to self-administer it.” Failure to do this would be considered a violation of the Consumer Protection Act, which could bring about lawsuits against pregnancy centers where damages up to $10,000 could be awarded. “Many clinics may have to close as a result of a lawsuit,” said the statement.

According to a press release from pregnancy center supporters, in 2009, pregnancy resource centers and medical clinics in the state of Washington served over 60,000 women at no charge and provided support and social services for over 34,000. In addition, pregnancy centers had over 22 social service agencies in Washington State refer clients to them and provided free services to men, women and teenagers totaling a value of over $15 million.

“It will be critical for legislators to learn for themselves about the tremendous contribution of pregnancy centers in their districts,” said Cullen in Monday's press release.“They will find that these entities have been serving their communities for years without complaint and play a critical role in providing a web of support to women facing unplanned pregnancies. This proposed regulation is not only unnecessary and unwarranted, but also a slap in the face to these charities that have been working so hard for so long.”

Pregnancy centers have existed in Washington State for 25 years and have relied primarily on donations and volunteers.

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