Disclosing information to pregnant women—an established pro-life legal strategy—is now cutting both ways.
Pro-life groups have long fought for laws that require doctors to give women seeking abortions an ultrasound and children to get parental permission for an abortion. In April, Oklahoma passed a bill requiring doctors to conduct a vaginal ultrasound at least one hour before an abortion and explain the results. Nebraska passed a law requiring doctors to evaluate and disclose to patients whether they face risks that could result in physical or mental problems after an abortion.
Now abortion supporters are emphasizing disclosure in their efforts against crisis pregnancy centers. In April, the Austin City Council in Texas passed an ordinance requiring centers that do not offer or refer clients to abortion or birth control services to disclose this on signs posted at their facilities. Violators could be fined up to $450 per offense.
Pro-life groups are crying foul.
"It would be like forcing an abortion facility to say, 'We don't refer to adoption agencies,'" said Mary Spaulding Balch, director of state legislation for the National Right to Life Committee.
In February, the Montgomery County Council in Maryland approved a regulation that requires pregnancy centers that do not have a licensed medical professional on staff to notify clients by posting a sign in the waiting room.
Pro-life groups say the new disclosure laws are different from informed consent laws requiring that women be given an ultrasound.
"This information is typically provided in one-on-one counseling sessions with patients," said Denise Burke, vice president of legal affairs for Americans United for Life. "There's a big difference between counseling and requiring a big sign to be placed on the door."
The Catholic Archdiocese of Baltimore filed a lawsuit earlier this year on behalf of a pregnancy center, claiming the rule is biased against pro-life groups. Baltimore passed an ordinance in late 2009 requiring pregnancy centers to post an easily readable sign in English and Spanish stating that the center does not offer abortions or birth control services.
The Greater Baltimore Crisis Pregnancy Center posted a statement on its website saying it does not perform or refer for abortions.
"They're not against disclosure; they're against the government compelling their speech," said archdiocesan spokesman Sean Caine. "What they reject is being told by the government that we have to discuss, through a sign, abortion."
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Other coverage related to pregnancy center disclosure laws include:
Pro-life group fights disclosure law | A crisis pregnancy center in Silver Spring has become the second group in Maryland to sue a Washington-area government over laws that pro-lifers say are part of a national campaign to snuff out anti-abortion speech. (May 24, 2010, Washington Times)
Anti-abortion pregnancy center sues Montgomery | Center claims Trachtenberg's bill, passed in February, limits access to care (Gazette, May 20, 2010)
Baltimore to be center of abortion debate | City Council expected to approve rules for offices that don't provide abortion, birth control (Baltimore Sun, November 23, 2009)
Previous Christianity Today articles on abortion include:
The Day We Let Our Son Live | It ended up being the most important day of my life. (Her.meneutics, November 2, 2009)
Friend or Foe? | Recent technological advances may hurt the pro-life movement. (July 23, 2009)
Saved by sonogram | Ultrasounds help crisis pregnancy centers reduce abortion (March 1, 2003)