An attempted hijacking last week went largely unnoticed by the press. While pro-lifers marched publicly in Washington, pro-aborts stealthily tried to seize not a plane but the First Amendment. Their target: not two towers but crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) in the New York City area. The perpetrator: not a Saudi but the attorney general of New York, Eliot Spitzer. And the outcome, if pro-lifers rise to the challenge and build alliances: a victory for life and free speech.
To understand how to defeat the new assault, some background may be helpful. This is the second time pro-abortion forces have tried to shut down CPCs. The first attack began in 1985, when Planned Parenthood of New York City had its public-relations staff plant lie-filled stories about "deceptive" CPCs in magazines like Vogue and sympathetic newspapers, including USA Today.
I learned about that campaign in an up-close and personal way. My wife Susan had recently founded the Austin Crisis Pregnancy Center, and in our pro-abort college town it wasn't long before a feminist newspaper reporter interviewed her and another CPC representative. The reporter used a Planned Parenthood template to write a hit piece about the center, but she foolishly had not used a tape recorder. She mangled the quotations and the CPC had a tape, so Susan and I had some smoking gun misquotes to show the editors.
We met with the editors for four hours, played the tape, and showed them that 24 of the 38 paragraphs in the story had misquotations, inaccuracies, or violations of standard journalistic ethics. The result: a grudging semi-apology and an offer of equal space to tell the CPC's side of the story, which Susan and I enjoyed doing in January 1986. Pro-lifers in other cities who learned about the Planned Parenthood campaign also fought back against sloppy reporters, and CPCs stayed in business.
Now, another assault is under way, and it's important that pro-lifers have early warning of the pro-abort strategy. The National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League (NARAL) has put out a big booklet listing lots of ways to harass CPCs, and praising one in particular: "Persuade state attorney general to bring litigation against targeted CPCs," with the goal of requiring "new operating guidelines for CPCs."
We're seeing in liberal New York how the pointed advice in NARAL's booklet-"Target: Attorney General"-works out in practice. New York Attorney General Spitzer, who has taken campaign bucks from NARAL's political action committee, last month delighted his backers by agreeing to a creative attack on CPCs: Accuse them of practicing medicine without a license.
The accusation is not in response to any problem, says Chris Slattery, founder and president of Expectant Mother Care (EMC), one of the five New York CPC organizations that received subpoenas last month demanding all kinds of information that could be used as evidence that they are "diagnosing and advising persons on medical options" without a license. EMC, founded in 1985, has served over 30,000 clients since then without facing any lawsuits. It now operates five centers that serve over 4,000 girls and women each year.
Nevertheless, if a judge goes along with the notion that counseling about abortion is illegally practicing medicine, and other judges uphold that decision, many New York CPCs will have to shut down. If a precedent established in New York were to lead to new restrictions across the country, every CPC that depends on trained volunteers will be vulnerable. And more: Anything that touches on medical ethics could become the province of physicians, with everyone else gagged.
But the counterattack is now beginning. South Carolina Attorney General Charlie Condon has sent a letter to Mr. Spitzer criticizing the New Yorker's "ill-advised course of action." Mr. Condon notes that CPC volunteers "freely give of themselves with a helpful hand and a loving heart," and that "the heavy hand of the government investigation ... will inevitably discourage community service and volunteerism." Also, the American Center for Law and Justice and other legal groups are coming to the defense of the CPCs, calling Mr. Spitzer's action "clearly a case of discrimination and harassment."
Others need to fight back as well by publicizing the pro-aborts' overreaching attempt to shut off debate. We need a coalition of not only pro-lifers but all those who value the First Amendment. For example, New York Times columnist William Safire, who is vigilant about free-speech issues, should pay attention to this one in his own backyard. If he and others come through, this attempt will end up with normally lap-dog politicians and journalists reluctant to be, at least obviously, Park Avenue poodles for abortionists.