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EXCLUSIVE: Emails reveal Maryland officials collaborating with NARAL to shut down pro-life pregnancy center

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Emails obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request have revealed that Maryland government officials and activists with the state chapter of NARAL Pro-Choice America have been working closely together on a legal effort to shut down a local pro-life pregnancy care center. 

The emails have also revealed a seven-part plan developed by NARAL to shut down pro-life pregnancy care centers that could indicate a nationwide strategy.

In 2010, Montgomery County passed an ordinance requiring Centro Tepeyac Silver Spring Women's Center and other pro-life pregnancy care clinics to post signs stating that they did not have doctors on staff. The county claimed it wanted to prevent pro-life clinics from giving women misleading information.

Represented by the Alliance Defending Freedom, Centro fought the ordinance, which did not apply to abortion clinics. On April 30, 2014, Montgomery County dropped its defense of the law after a third decision against it on March 7, in which U.S. District Judge Deborah Chasanow, a Clinton appointee, noted that the people who accused the centers of spreading "misinformation" were “universally volunteers from a pro-choice organization sent to investigate practices” at the centers.

The emails obtained by LifeSiteNews reveal that, unbeknownst to the public, Montgomery County dropped the case after conferring with NARAL. The county stopped defending the law the month after NARAL recommended that very action in a March 14, 2014 letter, sent a week after the judge permanently blocked the law.

“It is our hope that the Montgomery County Council (Council) will once again partner with us to ensure Montgomery Council citizens are aware of the misleading tactics used by crisis pregnancy centers," Maryland's NARAL chapter president, Jodi Finkelstein, wrote.

In the letter, sent by the county to LifeSiteNews along with other emails through a Freedom of Information Act request, Finkelstein "strongly" recommended that the county drop the case and implement seven other strategies.

Those strategies include:

  • Prosecuting volunteers and employees of pregnancy care centers for “consumer protection violations”;
  • Forbidding Centro from “participating in advertising” that county officials deem “untrue or misleading”;
  • Allowing women who claim they were “harmed by limited-service pregnancy centers to collect monetary damages” from women's centers;
  • Denying taxpayer funding to crisis pregnancy centers;
  • Instructing county officials not to refer women to CPCs for ultrasounds or to “very clearly differentiate the centers from legitimate medical providers”;
  • Having the county undertake a "public awareness campaign"  against pregnancy centers; and
  • The regulation of ultrasound practices.

“We are pleased to offer our continued assistance in any way as you move forward,” Finkelstein writes.

See a PDF file of the emails LifeSiteNews obtained here. Finkelstein's letter is on pages 5-7.

George Leventhal, the current Montgomery County Council president, followed up on NARAL's recommendations in an email March 16, 2014 asking staff to take action. He told Finkelstein he was "copying Uma Ahluwalia, director of the Department of Health and Human Services, on this reply with a request that she let me know whether county funds are currently supporting limited-service pregnancy centers and under what terms and conditions women are referred to such centers."

"I am also asking Amanda Mahill of the County Council staff to research federal regulations referenced in your letter governing the use of ultrasounds," he added.

He again wrote on March 18, adding, "I doubt my colleagues or the County Attorney will be interested in pursuing a truth-in-advertising statute."

"While I agree these centers are deceptive," wrote Leventhal, "they are clearly very artful at devising strategies to avoid violating the law."

Heartbeat International president Peggy Hartshorn, whose organization's umbrella includes Centro Tepeyac, said that LifeSiteNews' revelations show "the ugly truth that NARAL is solely and strategically committed to reducing a woman’s options to only abortion. Women deserve better."

“No amount of political maneuvering or coercion can take away the fact that pregnancy help organizations are good for America’s expectant mothers, families, and babies," said Hartshorn. "Pregnancy help organizations like Centro Tepeyac exist so that every mother can feel loved and supported during her pregnancy. The only opponents to this mission are those who, like NARAL, stand to gain financially and ideologically by the intentional killing of a child within the womb."

Finkelstein's letter also acknowledged that "[crisis pregnancy centers] are rapidly medicalizing -- consistently acquiring more medical equipment and staff." According to Finkelstein, this means that efforts "requiring [crisis pregnancy centers] to disclose that they do not have medical personnel on staff" can "often backfire."

In her email, Finkelstein said that the successful medicalizing by crisis pregnancy centers "detracts from our core objection to [crisis pregnancy centers]. It does not matter if [crisis pregnancy centers] hire doctors or house state-of-the-art equipment: they are still manipulating women with lies and misleading information." (Emphasis included in the original email.)

"(I)n many cases, [crisis pregnancy centers] simply will not be affected by these requirements," wrote Finkelstein, whose letter was addressed to Councilman Craig Rice, then the president of the Montgomery County Council. She said this created a situation where it is "harder and harder for women to distinguish ‘crisis pregnancy centers’ from legitimate health centers,” and that “conveys a seal of approval that we never want to be complicit in allowing [crisis pregnancy centers] to claim."

Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Legal Counsel Matt Bowman, who was one of the attorneys representing Centro Tepeyac in its case against the county law, told LifeSiteNews that NARAL's "biased legal advice" was not beneficial to the county, which had to pay $375,000 to Centro Tepeyac's lawyers after losing the case.

"Montgomery County, MD lost $375,000 to Centro Tepeyac's lawyers by following the biased legal advice of NARAL," said Bowman. "NARAL's response to that is to give more bad advice. Even one of NARAL's best friends on the county council says that his colleagues probably would not adopt NARAL’s proposed ‘truth-in-advertising’ law after NARAL had caused this court debacle."

"NARAL’s old theory to criticize pro-life pregnancy centers was that they don’t have doctors," continued Bowman. "Now NARAL admits even that isn’t true because centers 'are rapidly medicalizing.’ But that was true when the litigation started, too. NARAL’s theories have always been flawed, which is why the judge ruled entirely for Centro Tepeyac after she looked at all the facts.”

Finkelstein did not respond to LifeSiteNews' request for comment about her organization's involvement in the county's law, the legal battle, and the subsequent settlement.

Leventhal's office told LifeSiteNews that the Councilmember would not be able to respond to questions clarifying NARAL's involvement in the county's law – claiming that he had never been briefed on the issue. After being reminded of last year's emails, the office gave LifeSiteNews the Councilmember's email address, as well as that of the Council's legislative attorney, Amanda Mihill. Neither Leventhal nor Mihill responded to questions for this article.

Leventhal didn't just discuss policy with Finkelstein. In an email dated July 27, 2012, he said, "It was great to see you at Jerry Samet's house just now." And in 2010 Leventhal wrote that he planned to attend the annual NARAL gala in Rockville, Maryland, on October 16 of that year.

The Freedom of Information Act revelations come as NARAL's Ohio chapter is considering suing Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s administration, claiming the governor's office worked too closely with Ohio Right to Life to pass pro-life regulations in that state.

Bowman said that the emails show that "to NARAL, any organization that believes life is good and abortion is bad should be punished by the government for engaging in what NARAL calls false speech, regardless of the credentials of the people who work there.”

Contact:

Montgomery County Council
Phone: 240-777-7900
Email: [email protected]

George Leventhal, President
Phone: 240-777-7811
Email: [email protected]

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