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Controversy Surrounding Limited Service Pregnancy Centers

Meghan Walker
04/13/2011

Controversial billboards have been popping up around Seattle lately. They're for a website, YourOptions.com. It aims to give pregnant women alternatives to abortion. But some people say the billboards are misleading. They want a law that would force such ads to be more transparent. KUOW's Meghan Walker has the story.

TRANSCRIPT

Kristen Glundberg–Prossor is the director of public affairs for Planned Parenthood in Seattle.

Glundberg–Prossor: "This does not really seem to have all the options. If abortion is one of the options, let me look here and see."

We're looking up YourOptions.com on her office computer.

Walker: "So looking at this website, what should they do differently here?"

Glundberg–Prossor: "When we're looking at this website we just want them to give full disclosure and be up front about what kind of information they're going to provide."

The website was created by the Vitae Foundation, a religious group aimed at reducing abortion rates. YourOptions.com refers pregnant women to Care Net. That's a national chain that provides some pregnancy services. But Glundberg–Prossor says Care Net's pro–life agenda isn't as clear as it should be in their advertising.

Glundberg–Prossor: "We don't believe in the same things. Planned Parenthood believes in all options to women and Care Net and limited–service pregnancy centers take that option off the table from the get–go."

A few years ago a Tacoma woman, Jennifer Adams, visited a Care Net center. She already knew she was pregnant, but needed an official pregnancy test for her insurance. During the visit she told the Care Net worker she wasn't married. She says she was surprised by the Care Net employee's response.

Adams: "The bible verse she wanted me to read was about, 'for we all fall short of the glory of God.' I didn't feel like it was appropriate. I mean, I was really happy that I was pregnant. And she's reading this bible, or, asking me to read this bible verse with her, which is just basically telling me, you're not great, you're not a good person."

Planned Parenthood wants state legislators to restrict all types of ads by limited–service pregnancy centers. That means encouraging transparency about what the centers provide. But the pregnancy centers say that violates free speech rights.

Dr. Jeff Smith is with Life Choices, an Eastern Washington limited–service pregnancy center. Smith spoke at a state Senate committee hearing earlier this year.

Smith: "Whether a provider of pregnancy–related services is pro–life or pro–choice, it is for the provider, not the government, to decide when and how to discuss abortion and birth control methods. The government cannot, consistent with the First Amendment, require a pro–life pregnancy center to post a sign as would be required by this ordinance."

But women's advocacy groups say it's not about forcing speech. They say it's about full disclosure. Sarah Aimsworth is with the group Legal Voice, which is siding with Planned Parenthood.

Aimsworth: "Our proposed change was that they are clear, either on their website, at their clinic, over the phone when people call, because that's another place where they deceive folks. Is to say we don't provide abortions or referrals for abortions, we don't provide birth control or referrals for birth control and we don't provide medical care for pregnant women. And that would eliminate the confusion over whether they're actually a medical clinic, whether they provide reproductive health care, etc."

People on both sides are watching New York City where a similar bill targeting limited–service pregnancy centers passed last month. It required those centers to advertise clearly about their services. But abortion opponents in New York are now suing. They claim that law violates free speech rights.

I'm Meghan Walker, KUOW News.

[Ed. 05/10/2011: The Care Net organization didn't respond to KUOW's requests for comment on this story. The Vitae Foundation does list abortion as an option on the website.]

[Ed. 06/17/2011: Jeff Smith is the board chairman of Life Services, an Eastern Washington pregnancy care center and clinic. Smith testified at state Senate and House committee hearings earlier this year.

Smith, quoting Federal District Court Judge Marvin Garbis who authored the recent opinion in O'Brien v. Baltimore, testified, "Whether a provider of pregnancy–related services is pro–life or pro–choice, it is for the provider, not the government, to decide when and how to discuss abortion and birth control methods. The government cannot, consistent with the First Amendment, require a pro–life pregnancy center to post a sign as would be required by this ordinance."]

[Ed. 09/30/2011: News Director Guy Nelson has a follow–up interview with Executive Vice President Debbie Stokes from Vitae Foundation. Please click the link below to access the interview.]

© Copyright 2011, KUOW

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