Crisis Pregnancy Centers Under Fire

WASHINGTON — A bill introduced in Congress by Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., seeks to take direct aim at the country’s estimated 3,000 pro-life crisis pregnancy centers. That legislation, known as the “Stop Deceptive Advertising for Women’s Services Act” (H.R. 5052), would grant the Federal Trade Commission the authority to penalize organizations that falsely advertise resources for abortion care services or counseling when they do not offer such services.

“When women are making a health decision, they should never be subjected to deceit and trickery. Some of these crisis pregnancy centers should be called ‘counterfeit pregnancy centers,’” said Maloney in a statement, adding that they “only offer anti-choice coercion.”

The American Civil Liberties Union, Naral Pro-choice America, the National Abortion Federation, and Planned Parenthood quickly got behind the legislation. Naral, the pro-abortion organization, sent out an action alert to supporters saying, “The Bush administration has given these fake clinics well over $60 million in taxpayer dollars.”

“Hardworking Americans should not have to foot the bill for anti-choice groups that pose as health clinics, misrepresent the services they provide, and in some cases even harass and intimidate the unsuspecting women they lure into their centers,” it said.

“Crisis pregnancy centers have a long history of engaging in deceptive advertising,” said Vicki Saporta, president and chief executive officer of the National Abortion Federation. “Some CPCs intentionally choose names similar to those of legitimate clinics to mislead women into believing that they offer a wide range of services, including family planning and abortion care, when in fact they offer neither. They also choose locations in close proximity to legitimate reproductive health care providers to confuse women even further.”

Commitment of Care

Crisis pregnancy centers have taken exception to such allegations. They contend that the majority of the nation’s crisis pregnancy centers are affiliated with national organizations such as Care Net, Heartbeat International and the National Institute of Family Life Advocates, which call for truthful and honest advertising.

Centers affiliated with such organizations pledge to uphold a Commitment of Care agreement that states: “All of our advertising and communications are honest and accurately describe the services we offer.”

“We offer only the clearest representation of ourselves,” said Susan Lear, executive director of the Pregnancy Crisis Center of Wichita, Kan. “If clients inquire about abortion, we will clearly say that we don’t provide for abortion, but will provide information about pregnancy options.”

Lear added that her center offers authentic medical services by partnering with the public health clinic to offer sexually transmitted disease testing, treatment and therapy.

Pat Foley, an administrator with the Wakota Life Care Center in West St. Paul, Minn., agreed.

“When a woman comes in the door of a Total Life Care Center, she is presented with a scope of services card that tells her what is done and what is not done here,” said Foley.

Minnesota’s Total Life Care Center’s 22 affiliates offer pre-natal care, ultrasound exams, testing for sexually transmitted diseases and immunizations. Services are provided by doctors, nurses and midwives associated with local hospitals. The Total Life Care Centers are members of Heartbeat International, as are more than 900 other centers across the country.

Under Attack?

It’s not the first time that such centers have come under attack.

In 2002, New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer launched an investigation of 24 crisis pregnancy centers, alleging that they may have used misleading advertising or practiced medicine without a license. The centers countersued, resulting in Spitzer’s subpoenas being withdrawn.

Foley recalled a similar effort in Minnesota several years ago.

Abortion advocates like Vicki Saporta complain about crisis pregnancy centers advertising under “Pregnancy,” “Medical,” “Women’s Centers” or “Clinics” categories in the Yellow Pages. But Jor-El Godsey, vice president of affiliate services with Heartbeat International said those listings were created “at the behest of the abortion industry.”

“So the category ‘abortion alternatives’ was created, and we were then listed first,” he said. “Now they’re coming back and crying ‘foul.’” Lear, of the Pregnancy Crisis Center of Wichita, Kan., admits some centers could be practicing deceptive advertising. “But it would be very, very rare and frowned upon by any of the national organizations,” she said.

Bill’s Genesis

Opponents of the bill say the real reason for it is abortion providers’ fear that they are losing business and access to the tens of thousands of women seen by crisis pregnancy centers every year.

“When you talk about truth in advertising, it’s the abortion providers who don’t want women to know that there are choices other than abortion,” said Lear. “We work with women who make abortion decisions, and also counsel women with post-abortion counseling.”

Maloney’s office told the Register that the legislation is the result of the firsthand experiences of women the congresswoman came across through her connection to pro-abortion groups. The genesis of the bill stems from the personal experience of a friend of one of Maloney’s office assistants.

While Maloney did not respond to telephone inquiries by deadline, her office said that the legislation isn’t designed to go after all crisis pregnancy centers, but only those that are using “intentional deception.”

Congressional watchers doubt the bill will find much support in a Republican-led Congress. Still, crisis pregnancy centers are concerned that such legislation could limit the services they provide. Those who direct such centers say that they make easy targets because they depend on volunteers and often operate on shoe-string budgets.

“This is nothing more than a routine attack on pregnancy centers by organizations seeking to limit their competition,” said Kurt Entsminger, president of Care Net, which is affiliated with 900 centers nationwide.

“Abortion providers are clearly threatened by grassroots community efforts,” said Godsey. “Crisis pregnancy centers do what they do at the behest of the community that supports them financially and with volunteers. They do their work quietly, compassionately, and offer all of their services free of charge.”

Tim Drake is based in

St. Joseph, Minnesota.

Cistercian Father Thomas Esposito says of discerning one’s college choice, ‘There has to be something that tugs at you and makes you want to investigate it further. And then the personal encounter comes in the form of a visit or a chat with a student or alumnus who communicates with the same enthusiasm or energy about the place. And then that love of a place can be a seed which germinates in your own heart through prayer.’

Choose a College With a Discerning Mind and Heart

Cistercian Father Thomas Esposito, assistant professor of theology at the University of Dallas (UD) and subprior (and former vocations director) of the Cistercian Abbey of Our Lady of Dallas, drew from his experience as both a student and now monastic religious to help those discerning understand the parallels between religious and college discernment.