Crisis pregnancy centers sue for discrimination

Should counseling services that don't provide abortions be expected to explicitly state as much?

Published March 31, 2010 3:01PM (EDT)

RH Reality Check reports that the Archdiocese of Baltimore is suing the city on behalf of Baltimore crisis pregnancy centers. The cause of this latest exciting round of church vs. state? A piece of paper, required to be posted at said centers, stating that they do not provide abortion or birth control services.

Carol Clews, of the Center for Pregnancy Concerns, says that clients have every reason to know the centers don't provide those services: "We make our position abundantly clear."

In a way, she's right. According to a 2008 investigation of Maryland CPCs by the NARAL Pro Choice Maryland fund, the centers advertise "pregnancy testing and counseling, adoption information, parenting classes, financial assistance for baby clothes and supplies, and occasionally, sonograms and sexually transmitted infection (STI) testing." One imagines NARAL would be particularly eager to report false advertising. So, fair enough: "Abortion" isn't on that list. Neither is birth control. According to this report, they aren't promising so much as a pack of condoms.

It's the slipperiness of the language -- "counseling" -- which hints at the larger issues at play. According to that same report, Maryland CPCs not only don't provide (or advertise) abortion, they don't provide referrals to physicians that do. (This is also covered on the sign.) Nor do they always provide accurate information on abortion itself. Instead, the "counseling" can include stories along the lines of this one, relayed by an investigator in the NARAL report: "[The counselor] stated that abortions were dangerous, had many side effects, and many women bleed to death on the table. She later commented that many women commit suicide after having an abortion." So ... you don't have the number for a clinic, then?

Is the mandate for the sign religious discrimination? Baltimore churches aren't required to say that they don't provide abortions or birth control; Baltimore crisis pregnancy centers are. And, although religious communities and anti-abortion advocates are a Venn diagram with some substantial overlap, they are not one and the same. You could put the same sign on the door of a Blockbuster Video, and it would be just as accurate. It just wouldn't pose the same problem for the store, because its clientele isn't largely composed of people seeking reproductive health care.

"I hope very much that the sign hasn't scared away people," Clews reportedly said. It's the closest her side has apparently come to acknowledging what those women might be scared of: Not getting the help they need.

By Sady Doyle

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