The following Op-Ed was published in the Fredericksburg Free Lance Star on Saturday:
February 28, 2010 12:35 am
–We can wave our signs, plant our feet on either side of the “abortion debate,” and disagree passionately over access to reproductive freedom. But there’s one issue wrapped up in the choice conversation that isn’t about abortion at all. Instead, it’s about scientifically based information versus medically inaccurate myths and the commonwealth’s 52 crisis pregnancy centers.
This is a time where I ask us to put aside our disagreements and instead focus on making sure that women facing unintended pregnancies aren’t deceived, scared, or lied to in order to promote a political or ideological agenda. We can all agree that women deserve access to real information on which to base medical decisions. The women of the commonwealth deserve our respect and the truth so they can make responsible decisions.
However, all across the commonwealth, thanks to crisis pregnancy centers, there are women who are making decisions about unintended pregnancies based on lies, misinformation, and scare tactics.
That is why NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia launched a yearlong investigation into the commonwealth’s crisis pregnancy centers. There is no desire to shut them down, no ill-will toward the services that some of them provide with honesty and transparency. Rather, this investigation set out to determine if women, in difficult and often vulnerable situations, are entrusted with real information to make educated decisions about their own reproductive health and futures. Sadly, the answer is an overwhelming, “No.”
Thirty-five of the crisis pregnancy centers in Virginia were found to share dishonest, deceptive, and medically inaccurate information with clients. These centers promote themselves as medical facilities when the majority do not have a licensed medical provider on staff. They advertise with the lure of a “free pregnancy test” yet they fail to mention their abstinence-only, anti-choice agendas. They also claim to uphold strict client confidentiality yet they do not follow HIPAA standards and violate client trust.
When a woman is falsely told that “the AIDS virus is smaller than the holes in condoms,” she will fail to use protection, inciting a public health threat. When a woman is falsely told that “a third of all pregnancies end in miscarriage anyway,” she will delay essential prenatal care for her fetus and herself. And when a woman is falsely told that “28 percent of all women who have an abortion commit suicide,” she makes a decision based purely on fear. This can’t continue.
Yet in our commonwealth, these facilities are now receiving state-regulated funding from the “Choose Life” license plate. Again, we support the First Amendment right of free speech that the license plate upholds. Rather, it is the accompanying funding stream–administered by the Department of Motor Vehicles and sanctioned by the General Assembly–that we take issue with. Why is the state sponsoring misinformation that puts the public’s health at risk?
Our investigation revealed that 72 percent of the centers receiving state funds are guilty of sharing medically inaccurate information. Not only that, but at least two centers are not registered as nonprofit 501 c(3) organizations with the state. Both of these concerns are direct violations of the very bill that established the “Choose Life” license plate. In a time of budget crisis, we should all be asking where these state-sanctioned dollars are going. I surely am.
In response, legislation was introduced; those facilities receiving these state funds just need to post signage. If the crisis pregnancy center is engaged in honest practices, why should they mind posting a simple sign that says that they do not provide or refer for abortion or birth control? And why should any facility receiving state funding and claiming to be in the business of “helping women” find it a problem to commit to sharing only peer-reviewed, medically accurate information that is standard protocol of the Virginia Department of Health?
NOT GETTING INVOLVED
We thought it sounded reasonable. Again, who wouldn’t support honest and accurate information? But, to our surprise, the bill was tabled. The reason cited: The General Assembly didn’t want to get involved because the license-plate funding stream is not state money. I might believe this argument if the commonwealth’s own attorney general didn’t turn it on its head.
There’s a new license plate now being debated on the floor of the General Assembly, one with a funding stream that supports Planned Parenthood’s cervical and breast cancer prevention programs. However, our new attorney general Ken Cuccinelli is battling it because he doesn’t want state funds going to Planned Parenthood. Even though the funds from this plate would not cover any abortion care, according to The Virginian-Pilot, “Cuccinelli said that didn’t assuage his concerns about the possibility of state funds being spent on abortions.”
The irony is thick, and the political propaganda even thicker.
We are left to ask, “Who can the women of Virginia trust when faced with an unintended pregnancy?” It’s not the crisis pregnancy centers who share that condoms have holes and abortion causes a mythical “post-abortion stress disorder.” It’s not our legislators who fail to make policy to ensure that women receive real information about their own health. And it’s certainly not our attorney general who simply wants to play partisan politics with women’s lives.
Emily Polak is deputy director of NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia.