A Win for Women in Baltimore
December 21, 2009 – 9:39am
Published under: Contraception | STI/HIV/AIDS Prevention | Sexuality Education | Maternal Health | Access to Abortion | Women’s Rights Jenny Blasdell’s blog | Printer-friendly version | Login or register to post comments | ShareThis
On December 4, the Limited Service Pregnancy Centers Disclaimers bill was signed into law in Baltimore City. Baltimore now leads the nation with the first enacted law in the country requiring crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) to disclose the limited nature of their services to their clients.
Introduced by City Council President Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, the law will go into effect in January 2010. This bill was supported by a diverse coalition of women’s groups and health organizations, and passed by a decisive 12-3 margin in the City Council.
CPCs often advertise “information on all options” or “medical referrals.” Thanks to the leadership of Council President Rawlings-Blake, they must now clarify that this does not include birth control information or abortion referrals. In essence, this bill requires truth in advertising by requiring CPCs to inform their clients if they do not provide or refer for abortion or comprehensive birth control by posting a sign in English and Spanish.
The measure will be enforced by the Baltimore City Health Department. This law does not violate the centers’ right to free speech and, unfortunately, we suspect that they will continue to spread misinformation. But at least now women will have a lens through which to view the so-called information about abortion and birth control they receive at these centers.
Intense and angry opposition to the bill was led by the Archdiocese of Baltimore and Maryland Catholic Conference. They attacked national and local research documenting CPC practices as “biased” and “flawed.” Opponents of the law argued that CPCs were being “harassed,” “unfairly singled out” and that their “integrity was impugned.” Yet they agreed that CPCs purposefully do not provide or refer for abortion or birth control.
The opponents also claimed that the bill attacked pro-life charities. The proof, they said, was that abortion providers such as Planned Parenthood did not have to put up signs saying that they do not provide baby bottles, diapers and infant formula. Comparing a CPC to a professional health care provider is like comparing apples to oranges. They are not equals on opposing sides; CPCs are ministries, not health care providers. Unlike CPCs, reproductive health care providers, including Planned Parenthood, adhere to a standard of care that includes providing information on all pregnancy options and providing community referrals for services like prenatal care and adoption. The pro-choice community empowers women to make informed medical decisions, basing care on well-researched science, which is supported by the Food and Drug Administration, the World Health Organization, and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
This legislation is not about abortion. It’s about a woman in crisis having the right to know that the crisis pregnancy center down the street will censor her access to basic, factual information about her healthcare. No one objects to organizations that want to help women who chose to become mothers. But lines are crossed when organizations mislead women and give information that the CDC would throw in the trash can. This law helps ensure each woman looking for information about birth control or dealing with an unplanned pregnancy will be able to make an informed choice: to stay at the CPC or to go to a health care professional who will give her all the information to which she is entitled. It is a common sense approach we can all get behind.