March 2 2011
NEW YORK – Pregnancy counseling centers, including those run by anti-abortion groups attempting to dissuade women from ending their pregnancies, would be forced to disclose whether they provide abortions, emergency contraception and prenatal care under a bill passed by the City Council on Wednesday and endorsed by the mayor.
The bill would force centers to include the disclosure in their advertising and on signs in their entrances and waiting rooms. Additionally, the centers would need to give the information verbally whenever asked in person or over the phone about those services.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg is expected to sign the bill into law, his spokeswoman Evelyn Erskine said.
A similar ordinance in Baltimore was declared unconstitutional by a federal judge in January, though that city plans an appeal. And Austin, Texas, has enacted a similar measure.
The New York City measure would apply to any pregnancy center that looks like a medical facility or provides ultrasounds, sonograms or prenatal care — but where services aren’t directly overseen by licensed medical providers.
Abortion rights advocates say the centers attempt to deceive women by opening near offices that offer abortions and implying they will give referrals to women considering ending their pregnancies. Although center staffers dress in medical uniforms, take clients to examining rooms and perform and evaluate ultrasounds, there often are no licensed medical providers there, advocates say.
“There are people out there presenting themselves as medical offices, deceiving women, giving misinformation,” said City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who called the bill a consumer protection measure.
The legislation, which also guarantees that women who visit the centers will have their information kept private, is expected to spark a court challenge by opponents.
“This legislation is designed to prevent pro-life advocates from speaking freely merely because their speech is considered unwelcome by some powerful interest groups that favor abortion,” New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan and Brooklyn Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio said in a statement. “Ultimately, this legislation will deprive some women of valuable services and information before they make their decision as to whether or not to have an abortion.”
The president of EMC Frontline Pregnancy Centers, Chris Slattery, said the bill contains “a grotesque violation of our First Amendment rights.”
“We are there to protect women from this abortion industry,” he said.
Slattery said that his group has 12 centers in New York, some of which are supervised by doctors, and that women who seek help there are not deceived.
The group calls New York the “Abortion Capital of America.” In 2009, 41 percent of pregnancies in the city (excluding miscarriages) ended in abortion, the city’s Department of Health says. Nationally, 22 percent ended in abortion, according to the Guttmacher Institute, which produces resources on topics pertaining to sexual and reproductive health.
Quinn argues the New York City measure will withstand any court challenge and has significant differences from the Baltimore ordinance. In New York, the rules apply to centers regardless of whether or not they offer abortions or refer clients to doctors who perform abortions, she said.