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Bill would hinder crisis pregnancy centers

WASHINGTON (BP)–The Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission has called on congressional leaders to proceed no further on legislation to regulate advertising by pregnancy help centers.

In an Aug. 19 letter, Richard Land wrote the leading members of two committees to express opposition to the Stop Deceptive Advertising for Women’s Services Act. Land is president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC). The bill would direct the Federal Trade Commission to issue new rules banning advertising that intends to give the impression a center provides abortions when it does not.

The ERLC opposes the legislation because “its purpose is to restrict the speech and activities of pregnancy centers throughout the country, opening the door for increased abortions,” Land wrote.

“Crisis pregnancy centers have an impact on reducing abortions, as they inform women that there is an abortion alternative,” he said. “It is therefore vital that we protect, not inhibit, the speech of these life-affirming pregnancy centers that do not perform or refer for abortions.”

Land expressed a concern pro-life advocates have that the bill would require pregnancy centers to advertise they do not provide abortions.

“We do not know of any business that is required to advertise the services it does not provide,” he said. “Why should crisis pregnancy centers be required to do so?”

Land’s letter went to Sens. John Rockefeller, D.-W.Va., and Kay Bailey Hutchison, R.-Texas, the chairman and ranking member, respectively, of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. It also was sent to Reps. Henry Waxman, D.-Calif., and Joe Barton, R.-Texas, the chairman and ranking member, respectively, of the House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee.

The bill is H.R. 5652 in the House, and its companion in the Senate is S. 3554. Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D.-N.Y., is the proposal’s sponsor in the House; Sen. Robert Menendez, D.-N.J., is the sponsor in the Senate.

In introducing her bill June 30, Maloney said many pregnancy centers are “forthright and respectful” but asserted “some take a more underhanded approach to lure in women seeking abortions by using tactics that should be illegal.”

NARAL Pro-choice America, a leading abortion rights organization, has been spearheading the charge against pro-life pregnancy centers. It has accused them of deceptively advertising in online yellow page directories under such headings as “abortion services.”

Care Net President Melinda Delahoyde denied the charge when the bills were introduced. Affiliates with her pro-life organization and other national groups, such as Heartbeat International and the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates, abide by a document — titled “Commitment of Care and Competence” — in which they promise to advertise and communicate truthfully, she said.

“Deception is simply inconsistent with our Christian principles of honesty and integrity,” said Delahoyde, whose organization describes itself as “Christ-centered” and serves more than 1,100 pregnancy centers.

The Maloney and Menendez bills are “just another attempt to shut down the competition,” she said in a written release.

The legislation, which has been introduced in previous sessions of Congress, has not been greeted with a groundswell of support. It has 25 co-sponsors in the House and none in the Senate.

Its introduction, however, again provides evidence of a tactic being used by abortion rights advocates and their allies at various government levels.

In the last year, the city councils of both Austin, Texas, and Baltimore, Md., have adopted ordinances requiring pregnancy help centers to display signs saying they do not perform or refer for abortions. Enforcement of the Baltimore measure has been put on hold while a lawsuit by organizations representing pregnancy centers is considered in federal court. A judge heard oral arguments in the case Aug. 4.

Many pro-life, pregnancy help centers provide such free services as pregnancy tests, ultrasound exams, prenatal care, childbirth classes, testing for sexually transmitted diseases, abstinence education, post-abortion counseling and material assistance. Abortion clinics typically do not provide some of these services.

In his letter, Land pointed to an “irony” in the Maloney and Menendez proposals.

The ERLC finds “it ironic that [the legislation] targets crisis pregnancy centers for supposed deception in advertising while some affiliates of Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion provider, are under investigation for such practices as offering inaccurate information on unborn child development and advising minors on how to avoid state parental notification laws,” he said.

Hidden-camera investigations by Live Action, a student-led, pro-life group, have caught Planned Parenthood employees in Alabama, Arizona, California, Indiana, Tennessee and Wisconsin seeking either to cover up alleged child sexual abuse or providing erroneous information about fetal development.

Land told the members of Congress the Southern Baptist Convention has approved more than 10 resolutions opposing abortion at its annual meetings since 1980. In some of those resolutions, support was expressed for pregnancy centers and counselors.
Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.