Thursday, April 20, 2006

the un-clinics

virago just forwarded me an unsettling story:

An Indiana mother recently accompanied her daughter and her daughter's boyfriend to one of Indiana's Planned Parenthood clinics, but they unwittingly walked into a "crisis pregnancy center" run by an anti-abortion group -- one that shared a parking lot with the real Planned Parenthood clinic, and was designed expressly to lure Planned Parenthood patients and deceive them.

The group took down the girl's confidential personal information and told her to come back for her appointment, which they said would be in their "other office" (the real Planned Parenthood office nearby). When she arrived for her appointment, not only did the Planned Parenthood staff have no record of her, but the police were there -- the "crisis pregnancy center" had called them, claiming that a minor was being forced to have an abortion against her will.

The "crisis pregnancy center" staff then proceeded to wage a campaign of intimidation and harassment over the following days, showing up at the girl's home and calling her father's workplace. Our clinic director reports that she was "scared to death to leave her house." They even went to her school and urged classmates to pressure her not to have an abortion.

the story isn't exactly new, and it's hardly exclusive to indiana. you've probably seen the ads for these places on billboards and benches near highways and in poorer communities: pregnant? need help? many of these are actually fake clinics established by religious fundamentalists to browbeat or otherwise scare pregnant women into going to term.

rep. carolyn maloney of new york has sponsored a bill (HR 5052) that would bar these non-clinics from advertising themselves as providing abortion services. the ACLU initially came out in favor, raising the eyebrows of those who see it as a free speech issue. a few days later, the ACLU apparently pulled down its recommendation in light of this dispute.

i'm a bit torn about the free speech issue. is there a first amendment right to be deceitful, to defraud people who are looking for one thing by luring them in and giving them the exact opposite? i might be willing to buy it, but not if people are making arguments like this:

"I am troubled by the assumption in the legislation that abortion services, as a matter of linguistics and a matter of law, cannot include discussing with a woman why she shouldn't have an abortion," said Ms. Kaminer, a Boston attorney and author who described herself as "very strongly pro-choice."

i don't know if ms kaminer is being disingenuous or whether she simply hasn't read the bill and thus doesn't know what she's talking about. either way, the bill says nothing of the sort. the actual language of the bill is:

Not later than 180 days after the date of enactment of this Act, the Federal Trade Commission shall promulgate rules to prohibit any person to advertise with the intent to deceptively create the impression that such person is a provider of abortion services if such person does not provide abortion services.

the bill then defines "abortion services" as "providing surgical and non-surgical procedures to terminate a pregnancy, or providing referrals for such procedures."

in other words, according to the bill, abortion services includes abortion (makes sense, right?), and places that advertise themselves as providing abortion services must actually provide them. it's pretty straightforward. nowhere does it say that the clinic cannot "discuss with a woman why she shouldn't have an abortion". however, if they discuss it with her and she wants one anyway, they need to perform the service or give her a referral.

if anti-abortion activists want to set up clinics for abortion alternatives, more power to them, but i'm inclined to agree that they shouldn't try to fool people into thinking they actually provide abortions when they don't.


Anonymous said...

So, could an abortion counseling clinic that only counsels, and that does not provide referrals, advertise under the heading "clinic" or "abortion" in a phone directory? I don't find it misleading for an abortion counseling clinic to advertise under these headings; the concern seems to be that the bill would unnecessarily prevent them from doing so.

stAllio! said...

what kind of counseling is this clinic doing? and why wouldn't it offer referrals? if the idea of the counseling is truly to help the woman make the best decision, then i would think that the clinic would want to be prepared with information and referrals for both adoption centers and abortion clinics.

the only reason i can see why a clinic would not offer referrals is if it is a clinic devoted to preventing abortions.

if you check the actual sbc yellow pages, you'll see there is no entry for "abortion". there are two entries: one for "abortion alternatives" and one for "abortion services". if you check the yellow book, you'll again find two entries: "abortion alternatives" and "abortion providers".

obviously i don't have a problem with a counseling clinic advertising under "abortion alternatives": that's accurate. if they tried to advertise in the "abortion providers" or "abortion services" section, that would be fraud.