Thursday, December 03, 2009

Why the Crisis Pregnancy Center Regulation Makes Sense

By Eric Luedtke.

As I sit here and write this on Tuesday evening, a public hearing is being held about the proposed regulation of Crisis Pregnancy Centers in Montgomery County. And while I'm not actually at the hearing, I expect there are a lot of high emotions on both sides of the debate tonight. This is, after all, part of the wider debate about abortion, a debate which elicits just about the most vehement opinions of any single issue in the wider arena of American politics. So even a discussion about a common sense idea can become a point of serious contention, in this case the idea that Crisis Pregnancy Centers should make clear that they are not real medical clinics and do not abide by the limits of a doctor-patient relationship.

I'm pro-choice, for the simple reason that I think reproductive rights are basic human rights. But I can respect the opinions of the other side, even if I often object to some of their tactics. One of the tactics I object to is deliberatley spreading false information about reproductive rights in an attempt to undermine both abortion and birth control. Some Crisis Pregnancy Centers done just that, hence the need for the common sense regulation the County is considering.

If you are unfamiliar with the crisis pregnancy centers, the basic premise is this: these centers are intended by anti-choice activists as places where women can come for counseling related to their reproductive options. At its most innocuous, the idea would simply be that women would be told alternatives to abortion. This is something, incidentally, that legitimate medical clinics and every abortion provider I've ever heard of do already. And some of the CPCs do actually stick to this simple goal, protected as it should be by the right of free speech.

But the reality of many of these centers is far different. Some of them use the tactic, all too common among the extremist elements of the anti-choice movement, of showing photoshopped images of older babies made to look dead which they falsely attempt to pass off as images of aborted fetuses. Some have told people seeking help with their reproductive health that the pill is not effective and can cause infertility, both of which are blatant lies. Some have claimed falsely that abortions are linked to depression and other mental health issues, breast cancer, or future infertility. These are lies, and bad enough, but perhaps the worst instance of such misinformation I've heard of is this: at a number of Crisis Pregnancy Centers in different parts of the country, people have been told that condoms do not prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. This last is not just an outrageous lie, but given the life-altering and sometimes deadly consequences of the spread of STDs, is to my mind downright criminal.

Given this, the idea embodied in the Montgomery County regulation seems a reasonable response. The centers are not medical clinics, so why should it be a problem for them to make that clear to people up front? Health care consumers, regardless of gender or the topic of the counseling, deserve to be told when the information they are receiving is from medical sources or political ones. They deserve honesty.

Or put another way, consider this: imagine that a series of clinics popped up advocating that men not get prostate exams, which, much like the use of condoms to prevent STDs, can save lives. There would be hell to pay as the lives of men were put at risk by false information. The very least that would be done would be a regulation requiring that these clinics admit they were not actually medical facilities.

The CPC regulation is common sense. If only the General Assembly had the same courage as the majority of our councilmembers who have co-sponsored it.