Antiabortion pregnancy center figures in state Senate race

Stephen Hunt (R) says he's being painted as an ideologue.
Stephen Hunt (R) says he's being painted as an ideologue. (Courtesy Of Stephen-m.-'steve' H)
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By Derek Kravitz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 21, 2009

One brochure boldly states that condoms fail one-third of the time -- by flaws, breaking or deterioration. A nearby diagram of a broken condom shows a small "HIV Virus" particle looming near the spot where the latex ripped. Another flier claims that the "most preventable cause of breast cancer" is abortions.

The literature, until recently circulated by a church-affiliated pregnancy center in Annandale, has become political fodder in the closely watched contest for Virginia's 37th Senate District between Stephen M. "Steve" Hunt, a Republican and former Fairfax County School Board member, and Del. Dave W. Marsden, a first-term Democrat.

Abortion rights and antiabortion groups agree that the information in the fliers is misleading and outdated. Jane P. Fuller, executive director of the Assist Pregnancy Center on Backlick Road, said the pamphlets have been removed.

But NARAL Pro-Choice America and other abortion rights groups are using the brochures as part of a broader attempt to attack so-called crisis pregnancy centers and locally to paint Hunt, a former official of the pregnancy center, as an out-of-touch extremist, said Emily Polak, a NARAL spokeswoman.

Hunt served as president of the center's board of directors from 2001 to 2006. In the volunteer position, Hunt said, he provided guidance on issues including fiscal oversight and outreach. The center is a 20-year-old, faith-based nonprofit group that provides free parenting classes and childbirth counseling to women, one of dozens in Virginia that abortion rights groups accuse of giving wrong information about the potential dangers of abortion.

NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia says the fliers and brochures distributed by the center and collected by NARAL volunteers in May show that much of the center's medical information is "dangerously incorrect," Polak said. The group has endorsed Marsden in a special election set for Jan. 12 -- a race political observers say could tilt the balance of power in the state Senate.

The criticism of the center's literature also comes as abortion rights groups nationwide step up efforts to discredit some of the statistics and information passed out at antiabortion clinics. Last month, Baltimore passed a law requiring such clinics to post signs indicating that they do not provide abortions or refer people for birth control, and Montgomery County officials are considering a similar policy.

But abortion rights groups say the root of the problem is the information given out by counselors.

One flier that was circulated by the Annandale pregnancy center claims that "condoms fail one third of the time . . . Safe sex teachers won't tell you that!" It goes on to warn: "Then don't buy the 'safe sex' lie -- it can kill you." It cites a 1987 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, but that study dealt with 10 couples in which one spouse had AIDS. Three of the spouses of AIDS patients developed positive blood tests despite regular condom use -- although improper use, not condom failure, was the chief culprit for the spread of the infection, according to the study. Many peer-reviewed studies released since then have found condom failure rates at far lower levels.

"The latest information is much more accurate" than a paper published 22 years ago, said Lisa Lecas, an American Medical Association spokeswoman.

Another flier describes abortions as the "most preventable cause of breast cancer," but the National Cancer Institute, a part of the National Institutes of Health, states that "having an abortion or miscarriage does not increase a woman's subsequent risk of developing breast cancer." The AMA and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists have said that no association has been found between breast cancer and abortions.

While not addressing specific brochures from the clinic, Hunt said that links between breast cancer and abortion have been documented and that the new attention paid to his connection to the center is part of a "highly politicized effort" to paint him as a right-wing ideologue.

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