Pregnant, and in need of help

Monday, November 23, 2009

MONTGOMERY COUNTY Council member Duchy Trachtenberg (D-At Large) has introduced legislation that is meant to target inaccuracies allegedly peddled by pregnancy centers that try to steer women away from abortion. The legislation, which is scheduled to be debated next month, is flawed and should be rejected.

Pregnancy centers are most often nonprofit organizations that offer free services to women facing unwanted or unexpected pregnancies. They do not offer abortion or contraception services and instead provide adoption or parenting counseling for those who choose to carry to term. Abortion advocates say that, in the effort to persuade women not to terminate their pregnancies, the centers give out misleading or inaccurate information about the risks of abortion. Two local pregnancy centers, for example, assert on their Web sites that women face an increased risk of breast cancer after an abortion -- an assertion that has been debunked by the National Cancer Institute.

Ms. Trachtenberg's legislation does not directly address this problem. Instead, it would require pregnancy centers to tell women, either in writing or orally during a first visit, that the centers are not medical clinics and that women should seek professional medical advice before making a decision. The bill would require disclaimers in English and Spanish. As long as a pregnancy center makes this disclosure, it is free to provide whatever advice or information it wishes.

No woman -- especially the young, poor and uninsured woman who tends to seek free pregnancy services -- should ever be given false information about her choices. Providers should be transparent about what services they do and do not offer. No woman should be coerced -- by a pregnancy center or an abortion clinic -- into a decision. But if a woman is intent on obtaining an abortion, she will soon find out that a pregnancy center is not for her. The proposed disclosure is too cryptic to be an effective alarm bell for many women and yet is suspect because it singles out pregnancy centers while absolving abortion clinics of any disclosure requirements regarding adoption or parenting options.

Montgomery County maintains three full-time medical clinics that provide free abortion, contraception and counseling services. These clinics employ licensed medical personnel and are regulated by the state and county. If county leaders and abortion rights advocates want women to have greater access to the full range of medical services, they could concentrate on ensuring that the clinics' existence is known to those who might need them.

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