Friday, March 4, 2011

Limited Service Pregnancy Centers: Unapologetically Selling Women Lies and Deception

This is a battle between “darkness and light,” said Anne Lotierzo, the Executive Director of a crisis pregnancy center located in Fort Pierce, Florida. 

Wednesday night NARAL Pro-Choice WA Foundation presented the remarkable documentary 12th & Delaware at the Central Cinema in Seattle.  The Seattle showing was the first stop of a nationwide tour that NARAL Pro-Choice America has organized around the country.  The documentary takes an in depth and up close look at the deceptive practices used by so-called crisis pregnancy centers or Limited Service Pregnancy Centers (LSPCs).  The documentarians spent one year observing the practices of an LSPC in Fort Pierce, Florida.  They also documented how that LSPC’s presence has impacted the abortion clinic located right across the street.  You can find more information about this documentary and the co-directors, Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady, here.

Wednesday’s presentation was followed by a panel discussion that included presentations from representatives for NARAL Pro-Choice WA, Legal Voice, a woman that visited an LSPC in Tacoma, and a Seattle ob-gyn.  Washington State would be the first state in the nation to hold these LSPCs accountable to the women that seek out their services.  The NWPC-WA has endorsed the Limited Service Pregnancy Center Accountability Act.  

The Limited Service Pregnancy Center Accountability Act (HB 1366) would require LSPCs to:

ü  protect the privacy of health care information they collect from women;
ü  provide pregnancy test results immediately;
ü  disclose that they do not provide services or referrals for abortion or comprehensive birth control, and   
ü  disclose that they do not provide medical care for pregnant women.

Similar laws have been passed in Austin, Texas, Baltimore, and most recently in NYC.  The Baltimore ordinance was recently declared unconstitutional by a federal district court judge who concluded that the law regulated the content of speech by mandating “forced speech” in violation of the First Amendment.  WA State Attorney General Rob McKenna, relying on that federal court decision in Baltimore, has indicated that he thinks LSPC Accountability Act is similarly unconstitutional. 

In response to the NYC Council’s vote in favor of the LSPC disclosure bill, Sabrina Shulman, political director for NARAL Pro-Choice New York, stated "It has been neither coincidence, nor by accident that CPCs have been deceiving women about their true nature.  Until now, deception has been their business model.  This needs to stop.  Today it will."

The packed Central Cinema viewers got a first-hand look at how the people that staff these LSPCs make no apology for the fact that they exist solely to lure and deceive women – to trick them into thinking the facility they are entering is a licensed medical clinic or an abortion clinic.  LSPCs lure vulnerable, oftentimes very young, and poor women with the promise of a free pregnancy test.  The Executive Director (ED) chronicled in the documentary and her staff directly admitted that they are engaged in a battle to end all abortions in the U.S. 

They explain that they really are salespersons.  According to the ED there are two kinds of women entering her facility.  One kind is the fearless woman that has already made up her mind to get an abortion; the other kind of woman is fearful.  The fearless woman needs to be “hooked” right away or else she is going to figure out that this is not a real medical facility and walk out the door.  The other fearful woman is much easier to manipulate and wear down. 

The strategy used against the fearless woman: when she asks directly “do you perform abortions?”  The answer is always delay, delay, delay.  Never answer her question but start a conversation with her instead. 

LSPC staffers admit most women calling or coming through the front door have no idea what kind of facility they have just called or walked into.  Staffers explain that they need to avoid answering questions to get a woman that calls on the phone through that front door.  While addressing her staff, the ED says – “maybe that’s not fair to that woman – but too bad.”

The next step in the strategy: isolation.

Leave the woman alone in a room with all of LSPC’s prepared written materials and graphic videos; lock her in the room for hours if you need to.  The ED does not see this as being deceitful because the priest that oversees the facility tells her it is OK to do this to the women coming into the facility.  “If it weren’t OK, Father Tom would not allow me to do it.” 

That same priest also claims that the pro-choice movement is violent and militant while the anti-abortion movement is peaceful.  This despite the fact that the documentary shows the great lengths the abortion providers endure to hide their identity, including having to be transported to and from the clinic with a sheet over the doctor’s head.  Doctors often wear bullet proof vests and carry guns to protect themselves.  The one doctor that was disguised in the documentary was being stalked by one of these “peaceful” protesters so he could discover his identity and start stalking him at his home.

The ED explains that they get a lot of women coming into their facility thinking it is an abortion clinic.  LSPCs reinforce this confusion by strategically setting up very near abortion clinics or reproductive health care facilities; this Florida LSPC was right across the street from an abortion clinic that was picketed daily by anti-abortion protesters.  The protesters harassed the staff and berated the women entering the clinic either calling them murderers or promising them that they will pay their rent and give them money to care for their other children as long as they don’t have the abortion. 

Many LSPCs not only set up near abortion clinics but they place signs in front of the LSPC to let women think it is an abortion clinic.  Care Net in Washington State explicitly encourages their network of facilities to situate themselves as close as possible to abortion clinics or other reproductive health service facilities.  A lot of LSPCs also open up near college campuses and in low-income areas of a particular community, often targeting students and women of color. 

This is particularly problematic for low-income women in Washington State seeking to get welfare benefits for prenatal care or for an abortion.  In order to get welfare benefits a woman must provide independent verification of her pregnancy.  The Washington State Department of Social and Health Services accepts pregnancy test results from LSPCs in Washington yet these same LSPCs remain completely unregulated by the state.  This is but one of the reasons we need to get the LSPC Accountability Act passed in Washington.  The health and welfare of women and their unborn children is jeopardized when LSPCs intentionally delay pregnancy results and often refuse to provide results to a woman if they suspect any possibility that she may seek out an abortion. 

The ED chronicled in the documentary encourages one woman that she should stay with an abusive partner so she will have enough money to raise her child.  Speaking with another woman, that she tries to befriend by buying her McDonalds, the ED tells her that condoms are only 85% effective.  When the pregnant woman pushes back against that misinformation the ED continues to besiege her with a litany of lies and medically inaccurate information. 

One of the more disturbing tactics involves lying to women about how far along they are in their pregnancy after they submit to an ultrasound.  They sometimes tell women they are only a few weeks pregnant and they have plenty of time to make a decision about their pregnancy.  Other times they tell women they are well beyond the timeframe when they can get a legal abortion.  These tactics lead to delays in seeking out abortion services and work particularly well on very young girls who are frightened about their parents finding out about a pregnancy. 

The documentary also chronicles the impact on the staff from the abortion clinic across the street.  The abortion providers discuss the extreme security measures they have been forced to use to protect themselves from violent extremists. 

The House version of the LSPC Accountability Act (HB 1366) has not been voted on yet.  Women deserve to know whether the facility they are entering when they need a free pregnancy test or abortion counseling provides the services they are seeking out.  Women should not be lied to, isolated, or manipulated when making personal choices that affect their lives simply because someone else has decided they should be making those choices for women instead.  Women are capable of making their own medical choices – and those decisions must be informed decisions.  If LSPCs in Washington have nothing to hide then they should not have any objection to a minimum standard of transparency. 

Please call your representatives in the House today and urge them to vote on this critical bill.  

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