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NY Council member Jessica Lappin (AP/Photo by Mary Altaffer)

'Viewpoint discrimination'

Abortion | New York's City Council considers the strictest regulations yet for crisis pregnancy centers

NEW YORK-The latest city to attempt to regulate pro-life crisis pregnancy centers is proposing the strictest regulations yet. The New York City Council is considering legislation based on the claims of a report that accuses these centers of using dishonest and manipulative tactics.

New York City Council member Jessica Lappin, a former Planned Parenthood escort, and seven other City Council members are sponsoring the proposed legislation, which goes beyond regulation in other cities, requiring a crisis pregnancy center (CPC) to post disclosure statements on its website and in its advertising and literature in addition to displaying them at its place of business. The bill also requires CPCs to disclose whether they have a licensed medical professional on staff, and it bars centers from disclosing personal or health information without patient consent. CPCs that fail to comply would be fined $200 to $1,000 and face possible closure.

This legislation is in response to NARAL Pro-Choice New York's latest report, "She Said Abortion Could Cause Breast Cancer:" A Report on the Lies, Manipulations, and Privacy Violations of Crisis Pregnancy Centers. The pro-abortion group based the report on its investigation of CPC websites and offices in New York City. According to the report, the volunteer investigators examined 14 websites, spoke to eight CPCs on the phone, and visited 10 CPCs in person.

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The report claims that CPCs are "hiding their anti-abortion agenda . . . confusing, and thereby tricking, women" with "inaccurate information and biased counseling." The report alleges that it was "emotionally manipulative" to show women pictures of unborn babies, to use the terms "baby" or "unborn child," or to refer to abortion as "killing." It also alleges that CPCs misrepresent abortion risk by discussing a link to breast cancer, future infertility, or post-abortion syndrome.

Other pro-abortion groups have conducted similar investigations of pro-life CPCs in several cities, alleging that the centers use false advertising and manipulative methods to counsel women against abortion. Baltimore became the first city to regulate CPCs when it required them to post signs saying they do not provide or refer for birth control or abortion. Since then, councils in Montgomery County, Md., and Austin, Tex., have passed similar legislation regulating CPCs.

Kristin Hansen-vice president of communications for Care Net, a network of CPCs-said that pro-life leaders believe the regulation commits "viewpoint discrimination" by singling out pro-life centers.

"It sends out a negative understanding in the community about the work of pregnancy centers," Hansen said. "It damages the reputation saying that [a disclaimer] is necessary when it's not."

NARAL's report faulted New York CPCs for failing to mention the HIPAA Privacy Rule, but CPCs are not required to follow the rule because they do not charge for their services. Hansen said Care Net encourages its centers to voluntarily comply with the regulation anyway.

Pro-life advocates have filed lawsuits in Baltimore and Montgomery County, arguing that the legislation there violates free speech and freedom of religion. The lawsuits have delayed enforcement of the regulations in Maryland.

But in Austin, CPCs now display signs that read, "This center does not provide abortions or refer to abortion providers. This center does not provide or refer to providers of U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved birth control drugs and medical devices."

Joseph Zwilling, director of communications for the Archdiocese of New York, said that the Archdiocese is reviewing New York City's proposed legislation and is not yet ready to respond to it.

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