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Antiabortion Centers Offer Sonograms to Further Cause

Makiba Smith, 16, returned to Severna Park Pregnancy Clinic last month with boyfriend Gregory Byrd. On a visit in June, she had planned to get an abortion.
Makiba Smith, 16, returned to Severna Park Pregnancy Clinic last month with boyfriend Gregory Byrd. On a visit in June, she had planned to get an abortion. (By Andrea Bruce -- The Washington Post)

Some funding is also coming from taxpayers. About 20 states have designated funding for antiabortion counseling centers, according to the Chicago-based law firm Americans United for Life. Last year, Minnesota appropriated $5 million and Texas $2.5 million for centers that encourage women to carry pregnancies to term. About a dozen states, including Maryland, contribute revenue to such centers through the sale of license plates stamped "Choose Life."

A report in July from congressional Democrats found that the federal government has contributed $30 million to antiabortion pregnancy centers since 2001. Most of that money paid for sexual abstinence education. But some was distributed as grants to help pay for ultrasound machines, the report found. For example, Life Line Pregnancy Care Center in Loudoun County received a $50,000 federal grant last year to buy a machine.

The National Institute of Family and Life Advocates, based in Fredericksburg, organizes conferences across the country to train nurses on ultrasounds in antiabortion clinics. Nurses are taught to determine whether a pregnancy is viable and to identify the sex. They are not taught to identify developmental problems.

The institute also helps centers complete paperwork to become medical clinics. In most states, the process is fairly simple. The main requirement is for a licensed physician to become the medical director and supervise medical services, though the director does not have to work on site, institute President Thomas A. Glessner said.

A few states, including New York and California, have more stringent inspection and licensing requirements, according to the institute. Maryland and Virginia are not among them. The institute did not analyze D.C. regulations. But the director of an antiabortion pregnancy center in the District that is seeking to become a clinic described an apparently simple application process.

Abortion rights activists are calling for tighter regulations. They say the antiabortion centers mislead women about the health effects of abortion.

Antiabortion networks reply that the information their centers provide is based on scientific research. "We are very careful that everything we present is 100 percent factual," said Peggy Hartshorn, president of Heartbeat International.

Defending the decision to locate antiabortion pregnancy centers near abortion clinics, Hartshorn said abortion foes are not seeking "to be deceptive or to trick people, but to be right where they are when they are making decisions."

Some Feel Deceived

But many women say they have felt duped.

The National Abortion Federation has received hundreds of calls and e-mails from women who say they went into pregnancy centers with vague or confusing names, many of them found under "abortion services" headings in the phone book. Rather than receiving unbiased counseling on all of their legal options, these women said, they found themselves listening to frightening, sometimes false, information.

Last year, Allyson Kirk, 24, of Manassas, a student at Northern Virginia Community College, became pregnant and made an appointment at an abortion clinic in Manassas to talk about her options. When she arrived at the office park where the clinic was based, she saw a sign advertising "free pregnancy test" at a center called AAA Women for Choice. She walked in.

Kirk was given some forms to fill out. A woman took a urine sample for her test. While she was waiting for the results, the woman asked a series of questions about her religious beliefs and then told her about high rates of infection, depression and even death among women who had abortions, Kirk said.

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