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The clock is ticking on a woman’s right to medical privacy, particularly her right to an abortion.
In March 2016, during the presidential campaign, then-presidential candidate Donald Trump appeared on MSNBC’s Chris Matthews’ program and, when asked about what should happen to a woman who had an abortion, he said there “has to be some form of punishment.” In the face of strong popular reaction, including among Republicans, he backtracked, calling for the punishment of doctors or other abortion providers.
In May 2018, at the Susan B. Anthony List 11th Annual Campaign for Life Gala, Trump reiterated his stand against a woman’s right to an abortion. “When I ran for office, I pledged to stand for life,” he blathered, “and as president, that’s exactly what I have done and I have kept my promise and I think everybody here understands that totally.”
In May, Diane Foley, MD, an OBGYN, was appointed to the Department of Health & Human Services’ (HHS) as deputy assistant secretary for population affairs where she will oversee the Title X federal family planning program. According to an official press release, Foley “has a long and distinguished career working in the healthcare and the public health arenas.”
Foley’s appointment was notable because she is a staunch “anti-choice” activist, the former CEO of Life Network, a company that operates two “crisis pregnancy centers” (CPC) in Colorado. These centers are pseudo birth-control facilities operated to convince pregnant women not to have abortions.
Foley’s appointment was announced at about the same time that the Trump administration announced plans to introduce a new rule that would bar abortions at facilities receiving federal family planning funds. According to CNN, it was “a move aimed squarely at Planned Parenthood, which accepts some federal money for non-abortion services”; Planned Parenthood receives about $60 million a year through Title X.
In June, the Supreme Court ruled, in National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA) v. Becerra, California’s Reproductive FACT Act unconstitutional. The act required California-based CPCs to post signs informing clients that the state “has public programs that provide immediate free or low-cost access to comprehensive family planning services, prenatal care, and abortion, for eligible women.”
The Supreme Court found the act violated the First Amendment. Writing for the 5-4 majority, Justice Clarence Thomas noted, the law “imposes a government-scripted, speaker-based disclosure requirement that is wholly disconnected from the State’s informational interest.” He added, “Neither California nor the Ninth Circuit has identified a persuasive reason for treating professional speech as a unique category that is exempt from ordinary First Amendment principles.”
Attorney General Jeff Sessions chimed in, insisting that people “should not be forced by their government to promote a message with which they disagree,” and that the centers should “not be forced to advertise abortion and undermine the very reason they exist.”
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco had previously ruled the act unconstitutional. Judge Dorothy W. Nelson wrote, “The notice informs the reader only of the existence of publicly funded family-planning services. It does not contain any more speech than necessary, nor does it encourage, suggest or imply that women should use those state-funded services.”
Under the Trump administration, so-called CPCs can be expected to increase in number and offer fake abortion care to women seeking help with their unwanted pregnancies. This development way well be the great shame of Trump’s presidency.
The first abortion clinic or CPC was established by Robert Pearson in Hawaii in 1967 after the state legislature repealed a law criminalizing abortion. Following the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, he moved to St. Louis and established the Pearson Foundation, an organization that assists people interested in starting a CPC. In 1984, he published How to Start and Operate Your Own Pro-Life Outreach Crisis Pregnancy Center that’s become the “bible” for the running of fake abortion centers.
Pearson’s 93-page handbook lays out a host of methods to mislead women seeking an abortion with their unwanted pregnancy. Foremost, it offers schemes by which anti-abortions can falsely portray CPCs as abortion providers.For example, the guide advises that “there is nothing wrong or dishonest if you don’t want to answer a question that may reveal your pro-life position.” Pearson was not ashamed for lying to further his anti-abortion campaign. In a 1994 speech, he stated, “obviously, we’re fighting Satan . . . [a] killer, who in this case is the girl who wants to kill her baby, has no right to information that will help kill her baby. Therefore, when she calls and says, ‘Do you do abortions?’ we do not tell her, ‘No we don’t do abortions.’”
Estimates vary as to the number of CPCs – and abortion clinics – that currently operate throughout the country. One estimate claims that there are between 2,300 to 3,500 CPCs in the U.S. while there are only 1,800 abortion clinics; another suggests that there 2,700 CPCs and only 800 abortion clinics. In any case, as an NPR report notes, “far more low-income women will be exposed to their deceptive practices instead of being informed of their range of reproductive health-care options.”
Individual CPCs normally provide a pregnancy test and anti-abortion propaganda. Many are integrated as part of a network or umbrella organization such as Birthright International, Care Net, Heartbeat International, or the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates. These umbrella organizations offer legal support, ultrasound training and other services.
CPCs are insidious establishment, falsely branded under a variety of misleading names. They are sometimes known as “pregnancy resource centers,” “pregnancy care centers,” “pregnancy support centers” or simply “pregnancy centers.”
Two in New York are representative. The EMC Frontline Bronx is located across the street from Planned Parenthood’s Bronx location and promotes itself with a large banner stating, “Plan Your Pregnancy.” Sisters of Life offers “sidewalk counselors” who stand outside Planned Parenthood’s Manhattan health center and tell patients that they would take them to a “real doctor.”
CPC will not refer a woman to an abortion provider and, according to one source, may refuse to provide information about or referrals for birth control, even if medically needed. As NARAL Pro-Choice America reports, “these practices block women from making fully informed choices about their reproductive health and may endanger women’s health by delaying access to legitimate health-care services.”
An October 2017 report from the Reproductive Health Investors Alliance found in at least 12 states CPCs receive direct state funding. Think Progress found in 2016 that seven states used federal TANF grants (i.e., Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or welfare funding) to fund CPC networks. Indiana, Michigan, Missouri, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas “siphoned off $30 million in federal welfare dollars over four years to these organizations that are unregulated, tax-exempt, and provide flimsy justifications (or none at all) for their use of federal money.”
Since the Roe decision four decades ago, the religious right has moved steadily and systematically to overturn a woman’s right to the privacy of an abortion. Now, with Trump in the White House, Republicans in control of both Houses of Congresses and the likely appointment of a strict conservative to the Supreme Court, the religious right has gained state power.
In the face of Foley’s appointment, efforts to defund Planned Parenthood and the NIFLA v. Becerra decision, one can expect the continuing increase in fake abortion clinics – i.e., crisis pregnancy centers. This development bodes badly in terms of a woman’s right for quality – and informed, non-ideological – reproductive health care.