Under attack...again

"Under attack...again" Continued...

Fitzsimmons had also urged Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat then in the House of Representatives, to hold hearings on whether pregnancy resource centers told the truth. Wyden gave megaphones to abortion advocates and refused to let pro-life pregnancy center leaders testify. Not only ABC, but CBS and NBC as well, decided to run stories attacking the centers, using the hearings as a news hook. Fitzsimmons said the stories "would not have been possible without the hearing, and that was my idea."

Fitzsimmons later told the Media Research Center, "I was on the phone every day [with Prime Time producer Ben Sherwood]. I gave him all of that stuff. I gave him all of those names and clinics. Ben would call me every day and ask me about the situation in certain states." Among the attack points: Pregnancy resource centers used volunteer counselors rather than "accredited educators," provided "anti-choice propaganda," used pictures of babies to "emotionally manipulate" women, and said that abortion has psychological effects.

The shows went on and perhaps dissuaded some young women from coming to pro-life centers. Several court cases ended up with restrictions placed on some centers: A San Diego judge told the Center for Unplanned Pregnancy there that it could not offer free pregnancy tests, could not advertise in the Yellow Pages under listings for "abortion service providers" (a reasonable decision) or "pregnancy options counseling" (a remarkable stretch), and had to tell every telephone caller that the counseling it offered was "from a biblical anti-abortion perspective."

Most pregnancy resource centers continued their programs unimpeded, but those who spearheaded the attack went on to greater fame. Prime Time producer Ben Sherwood is now president of ABC News. Ron Wyden is now in the U.S. Senate. Fitzsimmons in 1993 was one of the top 50 "hired guns" on Capitol Hill, according to Washingtonian, and in 1995 he testified to Congress that partial-birth abortions occurred only when a mother's life was in jeopardy or an unborn child had a medical condition that would prevent his survival. Two years later Fitzsimmons told the American Medical News, "I lied through my teeth."

 A new century brought the third attack on the centers. The most highly publicized part came in 2002 under the leadership of New York's attorney general at that time, Eliot Spitzer: He later went on to the governorship, then left office in disgrace as his patronage of prostitutes received exposure. In 2002 Spitzer's extracurricular activities were still secret but he openly praised NARAL, the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League, saying it was "instrumental" in his election and "made a difference not only for me but for candidates through the state who care about choice."

NARAL, meanwhile, put out a big booklet listing ways to harass pregnancy resource centers, and praised one technique in particular: "Persuade state attorney general to bring litigation" against centers for allegedly practicing medicine without a license. This was shrewd, because the advent of ultrasound machines through which parents could see not just a picture of an unborn baby, but a picture of their baby, was a big boost for pro-life education-and NARAL wanted to strangle that approach while it was still in gestation.

Spitzer came through, and Expectant Mother Care was one of five New York pregnancy resource centers that received subpoenas demanding masses of information to be used as evidence that they were "diagnosing and advising persons on medical options" without a license. Expectant Mother Care, founded in 1985, had served over 30,000 clients without facing any lawsuits, had an ultrasonographer licensed by the state, and two physicians, affiliated with major area hospitals, caring for clients.

Nevertheless, NARAL was hoping to find judges who would go along with the notion that counseling about abortion is illegally practicing medicine. That could have shut down many New York pregnancy resource centers and established precedents that would lead to new restrictions across the country, with every center that depends on trained volunteers made vulnerable. Anything that touched on medical ethics could become the exclusive province of physicians, with everyone else gagged.

Meanwhile, NARAL trained its supporters in other parts of the country on ways to "unmask fake clinics." Registrants at one training session in Los Angeles received exhortation to organize protests at pro-life centers and go undercover into the centers, saying "my parents will cut me off financially"-the expectation being that pro-lifers would then try to buy a baby. Registrants also gained advice on working with "religious leaders in your community to support comprehensive reproductive health care."


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