Monday February 1, 2010

Fate of Washington Bill to Hobble Pregnancy Centers Remains Uncertain

By James Tillman

OLYMPIA, WASHINGTON, February 1, 2010 ( – After a heated hearing last Wednesday, the Washington state Senate’s Health and Long-Term Care Committee has neither endorsed nor rejected a bill that would impose upon crisis pregnancy centers several new regulations that would not be imposed upon pro-abortion facilities.

While its backers tout the bill’s requirements for higher medical accuracy and privacy standards, SB 6452 also mandates that pro-life pregnancy centers immediately inform all visitors that the center does not provide abortion, referral for abortion, or emergency contraception.

The centers would be forced to provide the information “verbally…upon first communication or first contact with a person seeking services, whether by telephone, electronic communication, or in person,” and “in writing…in English and Spanish, in thirty-point font size or larger” on the main entry door and inside the building, as well as on all promotional materials and the center’s website.

Crisis pregnancy center advocates say such provisions are a blatant attempt to hamstring their outreach to women at risk of abortion, and dangerously infringe upon their First Amendment rights.

“[The] bill to regulate pregnancy resource centers is not about protecting women, it’s about protecting the abortion industry,” said Janet Morana, co-founder of the Silent No More Action Coalition (SNMAC). “It’s another thinly veiled attempt to keep women away from centers where they are actually given a choice other than abortion.”

SB 6452 states that its measures pertain only to “limited service pregnancy centers,” which are defined to include organizations that offer pregnancy tests or ultrasounds, but do not offer abortion or referrals to abortion.

State Sen. Rodney Tom, the bill’s sponsor, claimed in the Wednesday hearing that the bill was “not trying to close these places” or “restrict their First Amendment rights.” “What [crisis pregnancy centers] can’t do is try to use scare tactics,” said Tom.

Other senators objected, saying the legislation was an overreach of lawmakers’ power.

“It’s regulating something they have no business regulating and that is personal interaction between individuals,” said Sen. Joseph Zarelli, according to the Seattle Times. “When you walk into a Taco Bell are they required to tell you that they don’t sell hamburgers?”

Sen. Zarelli also pointed out in hearings that crisis pregnancy centers tend to be religiously-affiliated organizations, which people may freely choose to attend, and which do not use any public money. “I would question whether we have the ability to regulate such operation,” he said. “I think it’s akin to telling the pastor of a church what he can and can’t say to someone who chooses to comes to him for counseling.”

He also criticized that the bill specifically excludes organizations that provide abortion services. If one wishes to speak of choice, he said, then “it would be pure hypocrisy in my mind to eliminate one of those options that women have … and leave them with only one source.”

The crowd attending the hearing erupted into cheers after he finished speaking.

Another section in the bill claims that, because such centers “have provided medically inaccurate information about reproductive health,” they must be forced to provide “medically and scientifically accurate” information. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists spokeswoman Kate McLean suggested at a hearing that the link between abortion and breast cancer was one such falsehood, which she called “absolutely, one-hundred percent untrue.”

Fr. Frank Pavone, National Director of Priests for Life and Pastoral Director of the SNMAC, responded: “The science is there – more than two dozen studies from around the world show that abortion increases the risk of breast cancer.”

“The latest study came out only this month,” said Pavone. “I implore legislators, don’t let the abortion industry hide the facts from women.”

The bill itself is supported by various pro-abortion groups, including NARAL Pro-Choice Washington, Planned Parenthood VOTES! Washington, and the National Organization for Women (NOW).

Expenses from the bill are forecast to cost taxpayers over five hundred thousand dollars over the next four years. The Health and Long-Term Care Committee has until February 4th to take action on the bill.


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