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Associated Press photo by Bebeto Matthews

Under attack...again

Roe v. Wade | Crisis pregnancy centers are facing a new campaign to smear and silence them

This year will bring many new battles in the abortion war, and one skirmish is imminent: On Feb. 3 Austin LifeCare, a pregnancy resource center that opened its doors in 1984, is scheduled to fight in court the Austin City Council's attempt to dictate the signs it must put on those doors (see WORLD, Nov. 19, 2011).

Cities dominated by the left, including New York City and San Francisco, have passed ordinances aimed at pro-life pregnancy centers and exempting any group that offers abortions or refers women to abortion providers. The politicians say they must act because some women wanting abortions are wandering into offices that oppose their desires.

No city councils have coupled their requirement that pro-life centers announce "No abortion here" with a requirement that abortion businesses post signs announcing "No counseling" or "No facts about fetal development" here. That's one reason a U.S. District Court shot down a Baltimore City Council ordinance, ruling it violated the First Amendment's freedom of speech clause: "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."

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But the generally unknown news about this latest political push is that it's not news. This is not the first but at least the fifth attempt to slam pregnancy resource centers.

The first push came in 1985 and 1986, but it had been building for over a decade. Although pro-abortion groups had argued in the late 1960s and early 1970s for pregnant women to get counseling, the groups after 1973's Roe v. Wade decision typically criticized counseling because "it often contributes to a feeling that there is something peculiar about a woman who seeks an abortion." A 1980s survey by David Reardon found that 91 percent of women who had abortions thought their counselors and doctors had failed to help them explore their decisions. Half of the women, according to Reardon's statistics, said they still hoped for an alternative even as they entered the abortionist's office.

That need led to the growth of pro-life counseling centers during the 1980s. Abortion proponents initially tried picketing such centers, but one pro-life counseling center director said she looked forward to picketing so she could "take advantage of the free publicity." The National Abortion Federation then started to accuse pro-life centers of deceiving pregnant women into thinking they could come in and get an abortion: "Like spiders, they lure their victims into their webs and then apply psychological terror."

Amy Sutnick of Planned Parenthood/New York City succeeded in planting an article about "deception" with a USA Today reporter who obediently said she was "overwhelmed by the brainwashing techniques and the lies." Among the "lies" typically offered by counseling centers: information about when unborn children had beating hearts and fingers, and warnings that abortion scarred women psychologically. CBS, newspapers such as Newsday, the San Francisco Chronicle, and the Detroit Free Press, and magazines such as Vogue, also served as pro-abortion megaphones.

Abortion proponents succeeded in restricting pro-life centers in North Dakota and southern California. They tried to do the same elsewhere, but some reporters who carried the mail for pro-aborts were insufficiently slick. In 1985 a reporter for the American-Statesman, Austin's only daily newspaper, used Sutnick's Planned Parenthood template to write a long hit piece about the same pregnancy resource center that the Austin City Council has recently been harassing. The reporter, though, had foolishly not used a tape recorder as she listened to two representatives of the city's pregnancy resource center, including its founder, Susan Olasky.

The center had taped the interviews and could show that the reporter mangled quotations. That led to a four-hour meeting with the news editors who played the tape and could see that 24 of the 38 paragraphs in the story had misquotations, inaccuracies, or violations of standard journalistic ethics. The editors finally offered a grudging semi-apology and an offer of equal space to tell the center's side of the story.

Pro-lifers in other cities who learned about the Planned Parenthood campaign also fought back against sloppy reporters. Pregnancy resource centers survived, particularly as Operation Rescue took the brunt of abortion advocates' furor during the late 1980s and early 1990s.

The second onslaught came in 1991 and 1992, and again it started with abortion advocates. People for the American Way said pro-life centers "gave false information about abortion and birth control"-which meant information that disagreed with that which abortionists wanted to disseminate. Ron Fitzsimmons, executive director of the National Coalition of Abortion Providers, visited key figures of ABC's Prime Time Live, who "immediately agreed to do an 'exposé' on the issue of crisis pregnancy centers," he said.

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