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LIFE DIGEST: ACLU endorses bill limiting pregnancy center rights; even some abortion doctors question use of RU 486

WASHINGTON (BP)–A new congressional effort to police advertising by crisis pregnancy centers is unnecessary, pro-life advocates said, and unconstitutional, free-speech defenders charged.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which has long promoted itself as the leading defender of freedom of speech and civil rights, is right in the middle of the controversy, promoting the new legislation to the surprise of some.

Rep. Carolyn Maloney, a New York Democrat, introduced March 30 the Stop Deceptive Advertising for Women’s Services Act (SDAWS), which calls on the Federal Trade Commission to bar organizations from advertising that they provide abortion services when they do not. Just 12 House of Representatives members have cosponsored Maloney’s bill, but leading abortion rights organizations, including NARAL Pro-choice America and the National Abortion Federation, are behind it.

The ACLU also endorsed it, and that stunned some who have defended the organization’s work in the past.

“[W]hat about the First Amendment?” asked Nat Hentoff, a syndicated columnist and a former ACLU board member, according to The New York Sun. “When you have the state, with its power, deciding what is deceptive on something as thoroughly controversial as this, it goes against the very core, it seems to me, of the First Amendment.”

Hentoff called the ACLU endorsement “a really extraordinary mistake.” The ACLU advocacy for abortion rights has eclipsed its support for free speech, he told The Sun. “It’s the problem the ACLU has had for years,” Hentoff said.

Eugene Volokh, a law professor at the University of California, said some sections of the bill would probably be declared unconstitutional. One problem is the legislation seeks to control speech that might be misleading but not necessarily untrue, he told The Sun.

“The same logic would justify regulating a broad range of political or historical statements,” Volokh said, according to The Sun. “I think that’s a pretty dangerous policy.”

The proposal is unneeded, representatives of crisis pregnancy centers said.

“This legislation is unnecessary, as it aims to cure an ill that doesn’t exist,” Care Net President Kurt Entsminger said in a written release. Care Net is a nationwide network of about 900 evangelical Christian, pregnancy help centers. “This is nothing more than a routine attack on pregnancy centers by organizations seeking to limit their competition. We find it particularly curious that in her announcement Rep. Maloney did not cite one example of a pregnancy center that is engaging in deceptive advertising.”

Tom Glessner, president of the National Institute of Family Life Advocates (NIFLA), said in a written statement that crisis pregnancy centers “are providing accurate, truthful and complete information to empower women to choose life. The only fraudulent activity in this area comes from those in the abortion industry who want to withhold truthful information from abortion-vulnerable women.”

In announcing the introduction of her bill, Maloney said in a written release that some crisis pregnancy centers “should be called ‘Counterfeit Pregnancy Centers.’ They have the right to exist, but they shouldn’t have the right to deceive in order to advance their particular beliefs.”

Maloney’s bill is H.R. 5052. There is not a companion bill in the Senate.

RU-486 DOUBTS AMONG ABORTIONISTS -– Even some abortion doctors are questioning the safety of RU 486 in the wake of more deaths by women using the drug.

The United States Food and Drug Administration announced March 17 it had learned of two more deaths of women after taking RU 486. At least seven women have died in the United States after using the two-step drug regimen since RU 486 went on the market in September 2000. The FDA announced in July 2005 that four California women who underwent chemical abortions had died from an uncommon and lethal bacterial infection known as Clostridium sordellii.

Well-known abortion doctor Warren Hern told The New York Times in an April 1 article that the latest deaths show chemical abortions are far riskier than surgical ones. He said pills “are a lousy way to perform an abortion.”

“I think surgery should be the procedure of choice,” said Hern, who does abortions in Denver.

Peter Bours, a Portland, Ore., abortion doctor, told The Times, “None of these women should be dying; it’s shocking.”

Bours is reconsidering whether to offer RU 486 to women, according to the newspaper.

The reported risk of death is slightly more than one in 100,000 chemical abortions, about 10 times that of surgical abortions, according to The Times. It is unclear, however, how accurate the reported death rate for women is with either kind of abortion.

Some abortion doctors have even acknowledged that the foes of RU 486 have a point.

“The complications associated with RU 486 far exceed the complications of surgical abortion,” Damon Stutes, an abortion doctor in Reno, Nev., told The Times. While he is uncomfortable in agreeing with pro-life advocates, he said, “But the truth is the truth.”

The recently reported deaths have renewed calls for Congress to require the FDA to pull RU 486 from the market. The RU 486 Suspension and Review Act, H.R. 1079 in the House and S. 511 in the Senate, would suspend the drug’s sale while a review of the FDA’s approval of the pill is conducted. Congress has shown little desire to get involved in the controversy, however. The House of Representatives bill has 79 cosponsors, while the Senate version has only 11.

RU 486, also known as mifepristone, is used as the first part of a process normally occurring in the first seven weeks of pregnancy. Mifepristone causes the lining of the uterus to release the embryonic child. A second drug, misoprostol, is taken two days after mifepristone and causes the uterus to contract, expelling the baby.

HIGH-TECH INDUCEMENT -– At least one of Planned Parenthood’s affiliates is using a common marketing tool to generate new business -– free stuff.

Planned Parenthood Golden Gate, a part of the country’s largest chain of abortion providers, is offering a chance to win an iPod, the popular, pocket-sized music and video player, to women who come in for appointments at any of their eight clinics in the San Francisco area.

Even women who just recommend that their friends go to a Planned Parenthood Golden Gate clinic can become winners — of movie tickets, in this case. If the person who is referred by a friend keeps her appointment, the friend will win two free tickets to a United Artists theater.

Young women appear to be the targets of Planned Parenthood’s bid to recruit new customers, and that disturbs a watchdog group that monitors corporations that fund Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

“Just how low and disgusting can Planned Parenthood get?” Douglas Scott, president of Life Decisions International, said in a written release. “Just like any other business, Planned Parenthood utilizes programs designed to bring in more customers. Unlike any other business, Planned Parenthood has an agenda. Once a young person enters a Planned Parenthood facility, the group can preach its doctrine of death without the interference of parents or other family members.”

JAIL AT LAST -– An Indian doctor finally has been sentenced to jail for offering to perform a sex-selection abortion.

Anil Sabhani, a doctor in the northern Indian state of Haryana, and an assistant, Kartar Singh, were sentenced to two years in jail for revealing the sex of an unborn child and agreeing to abort her, according to the British Broadcasting Corp. (BBC). Although India’s government had enacted a law against sex-selection abortions 12 years ago, Sabhani and Singh were the first medical professionals to be sent to jail.

They were caught in a sting operation in which Sabhani was recorded both on audio and video telling a woman that her unborn baby was “a female fetus, and it would be taken care of,” BBC News reported.

Vinay Agarwal, president of the Indian Medical Association, called the sentences “historical.”

“The medical profession is doing all it can, though we have to address this as a social evil,” Agarwal said, according to BBC News. “People should be proud to have a girl child.”

Because of the cultural preference for boys, the ratio in India of female to male births has declined markedly, especially in the wealthier, northern states of Punjab and Haryana. The most recent census shows Punjab has 793 girls to every 1,000 boys, according to The Times, a London newspaper. Haryana’s rate is 861 girls for every 1,000 boys, BBC News reported. The nationwide average is 927 females to 1,000 males, according to BBC News.

It has been estimated 10 million unborn girls may have been aborted in the last 20 years in India, BBC News reported.