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New York City Council Votes for More Transparency from Crisis Pregnancy Centers

New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg signed into law a bill that will require more transparency from crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) in the city, helping to ensure that women who visit CPCs receive open and accurate information regarding which services they do and do not provide.[1] Under this legislation, CPCs must clearly disclose if they have a licensed medical provider. Additionally, they must clearly state whether they provide abortion, emergency contraception, and prenatal care, or if they make referrals to organizations that provide these services.[2] Though the measure has been called an issue of consumer protection and truth in advertising, it is also been declared a victory by the reproductive rights movement, as more women will be made fully aware and informed of their reproductive options as a result of the new law.

Across the United States and Canada, CPCs often use deceptive practices to disguise themselves as mainstream reproductive health care clinics. Employees of CPCs will often dress in medical scrubs, and the centers can be found listed in phone directories under the headings “abortion,” “abortion alternatives,” “abortion services,” “family planning information centers,” or “women’ organizations.”[3] CPCs falsely advertise that they offer abortions and objective counseling, and many low-income women are drawn in by the promise of free services. (A collection of CPC advertisements can be viewed here. A typical advertisement reads: “Considering Abortion? Information on A Woman’s Choice. FREE PREGNANCY TESTS.”[4]) However, in actuality, these centers are created to intimidate and deter women from exercising their right to choose.[5]

Investigations of CPCs have revealed a disturbing variety of misleading tactics employed by the centers to dissuade and prevent women from obtaining an abortion. In 2006, Representative Henry Waxman (D-CA) released a report, False and Misleading Health Information Provided by Federally Funded Pregnancy Resource Centers, which found that 87% of federally funded “pregnancy resource centers,” more commonly knows as CPCs, provided false and misleading information about the physical and mental health effects of abortion and grossly exaggerated the medical risks of abortion. CPCs will sometimes delay the provision of pregnancy test results, and in some cases they will dispense false information, saying that abortion causes breast cancer or warning that women who chose to undergo an abortion will suffer from mental health problems.[6] Various studies provide overwhelming, solid evidence that this latter “post-abortion syndrome” does not exist.

The City Council of New York passed the bill on March 2, 2011, after a vote of 39–9, with 1 abstention. Christine C. Quinn, the council speaker, commented that the “goal of this bill is to ensure that women are fully informed and not deceived.”[7] She added, “Women need to know, they have a right to know, whether they are consulting with a licensed medical provider.” Mayor Bloomberg signed the bill into law on March 16, 2011.[8] “I sign the bill with a conscience, clear conscience that it is providing information and not taking sides,” said Bloomberg, partly in response to criticism that the bill unfairly targets facilities with an anti-choice stance.[9]

Such criticism of the bill centers on an argument that the bill is unconstitutional and violates First Amendment–protected free speech. “It is unconstitutional because it does not apply to abortion facilities,” comments Chris Slattery, founder of Expectant Mother Care/EMC FrontLine Pregnancy Centers. “It only applies to us because of our viewpoint on abortion.”[10]

Others insist that the bill’s constitutionality will be upheld in court. Donna Lierbman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, said that the bill “is not viewpoint-based; it’s about deception.” She defended the free speech rights of CPCs, saying, “Unlicensed ideologues have a right to be ideologues, to espouse their beliefs,” but noting that they do not, however, “have the right to dress up as doctors and masquerade as health care providers and deceive women into thinking they’ve been to the doctor when they have not.”[11] As Amie Newman writes on RH Reality Check, “it’s difficult to see how requiring honesty and truth in advertising, essentially, impinges upon free speech.”[12]

[1] Michael Howard Saul, “Mayor Signs Pregnancy Center Law, Setting Stage for Abortion Battle,” Wall Street Journal, 16 March 2011, accessed 19 March 2011, <>.

[2] Elizabeth A. Harris, “City Council Favors Pregnancy Center Disclosures,” New York Times, 2 March 2011, accessed 19 March 2011, <>.

[3] NARAL Pro-Choice America, “NARAL Pro-Choice America Endorses ‘Stop Deceptive Advertising for Women’s Services Act,’” Press Release published 30 March 2006, accessed 6 April 2006, <>.

[5] NARAL Pro-Choice America, “NARAL Pro-Choice America Endorses ‘Stop Deceptive Advertising for Women’s Services Act.”

[6] Amie Newman, “New York City Reins In ‘Crisis Pregnancy Centers,’” RH Reality Check, 16 March 2011, accessed 19 March 2011, <>.

[7] Harris, “City Council Favors Pregnancy Center Disclosures.”

[8] Saul, “Mayor Signs Pregnancy Center Law, Setting Stage for Abortion Battle.”

[9] “Bloomberg Signs Controversial Pregnancy Center Bill,” WNYC, 16 March 2011, accessed 19 March 20011, <>.

[10] Harris, “City Council Favors Pregnancy Center Disclosures.”

[11] Ibid.

[12] Newman, “New York City Reins In ‘Crisis Pregnancy Centers.’”