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Crisis pregnancy centers wary of N.Y. attorney general’s ‘settlement’

WASHINGTON (BP)–There was no boasting from pro-life crisis pregnancy center operators in New York State, despite the state attorney general’s withdrawal Feb. 28 of subpoenas in an investigation into whether the centers provided “deceptive” medical information to women, CNSNews.com reported March 1.

New York Attorney General Elliot Spitzer issued subpoenas to the centers in January, demanding that they divulge the names of all staff members and their credentials, as well as the training materials, policies and procedures used to counsel pregnant women. Spitzer’s office said the subpoenas were the result of women complaining about misleading advertising and inappropriate medical counseling at the crisis pregnancy centers.

Spitzer struck a deal Feb. 28 with one of the centers, Birthright of Victor, N.Y., which agreed to four conditions in exchange for the subpoena being withdrawn. Under the agreement, Birthright must:

— Clearly inform persons who inquire about abortion or birth control that Birthright does not provide those services or make referrals for them.

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— Disclose verbally and in writing before providing a pregnancy test or counseling about pregnancy that the center is not a licensed medical provider qualified to diagnose or accurately date pregnancy, and inform women that only a licensed medical provider can confirm pregnancy or provide medical advice about pregnancy.

— Clarify in advertising and consumer contacts that the pregnancy tests it provides are self-administered.

— Tell persons who call or visit the center that it is not a medical facility.

Several phone calls seeking an interview with Birthright International, the parent organization for the Birthright facility in Victor, were not returned.

Spitzer also decided, as a way of bringing several other crisis pregnancy centers to the bargaining table, to withdraw the subpoenas issued to them back in January.

“This agreement, which builds on previous consent decrees, sets forth a simple standard for CPCs,” Spitzer said. “Its provisions are reasonable and fair and should benefit both CPCs and women seeking help.

“Using this solid settlement as a model, we hope to resolve outstanding issues regarding these centers,” he said.

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Spitzer added that the agreement in no way undermined the crisis pregnancy centers’ right to free speech.

“This agreement shows that our goals — to combat deceptive practices and to prevent unlicensed practice of medicine — are fully consistent with a center’s exercise of its free speech right to try to persuade women not to seek abortion,” Spitzer said.

Vincent McCarthy, senior counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice, which represents one of the affected crisis pregnancy centers, called the agreement “an unexpected victory for the crisis pregnancy centers and for the First Amendment.”

McCarthy added that the efforts by ACLJ and others to quash the subpoenas had a clear effect on Spitzer’s decision-making.

“It is clear that there has been tremendous pressure applied by the pro-life community since these subpoenas were issued,” McCarthy said in a statement. “It is also clear that the subpoena was designed to intimidate our client and stifle the pro-life message.”

The subpoenaed crisis pregnancy centers are generally relieved that the documents have been withdrawn, but when Chris Slattery, founder and director of the Expectant Mother Care facilities in New York City, was asked if he wanted to claim victory, he said, “Absolutely not.”

Slattery said the criteria for increased disclosure, set forth by Spitzer, are an attempt at intimidation.

“This is just a tactical move for him to avoid having to defend against seven motions to quash, seven court cases, and he wants to try to regain the [public relations] initiative,” Slattery said.

If anybody won, Slattery said, it was probably the New York attorney general.

Spitzer “wants to show himself as the master of destiny here of the crisis pregnancy center movement, he wants to be the master of our destiny, and ultimately the master of the destinies of the unborn and expectant mothers all over the state,” Slattery said.

“He thinks he can manipulate our centers by thinking we are going to cave in because Birthright chose to waive their constitutional right to avoid extended litigation and a fight,” Slattery said. “But the reality is, the oppressive client turnoff regulations Birthright agreed to are onerous, oppressive, violations of our free speech.

“If our side declares victory when Birthright decides to carve up its own constitutional rights, then we are real saps. They are trying to use this as [public relations] leverage and legal leverage to get the rest of us to cave in and capitulate to their demands.

“The only reason they dropped the subpoenas was to avoid the hellish court battles — we were trying to get their motions quashed. That does not mean their investigation is over. They still hold a lawsuit over our heads if we don’t capitulate.”

Jacque Wagner, executive director of Care Net Pregnancy Center of Central New York, said her organization was happy with Spitzer’s decision but is leery of what the future holds.

“We were relieved to know it was not going to be taking up any more of our time and energy, at least for a while,” Wagner said. “Hopefully this will be the end of it, and we can get back to business.

“I hope [Spitzer] backs off and leaves us alone, but that may be naive,” she said.

Wagner said she was also disappointed with Birthright’s decision. Care Net, along with several others, do not plan to abide by Spitzer’s new criteria, she said.

“I am very disappointed that Birthright made an agreement with them,” Wagner said. “I think they sold themselves out from the perspective that they are now held to some very difficult requirements. I think that was unfortunate.

“I don’t think they have set the precedent for the rest of us; I think [Spitzer] is just trying to put that spin on it,” she said.

Slattery said Expectant Mother Care, along with the other crisis pregnancies, would meet with Spitzer.

“We will sit down, but they have already made clear where they are coming from,” Slattery said. “They say the Birthright agreement is what they consider a model; I think the standard is a hellish violation of our First Amendment rights.”
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Pierce is a staff writer with www.cnsnews.com. Used by permission.