Pregnant? Scared? You Might Have Seen These Signs ... But Do They Really Offer Any Solutions?

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Here's a disturbing lie about women’s health that could end up making you never want to trust another white coat.

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I will never forget the day that I found out that I was pregnant. I was 19 years old and I was in college. I knew that I had a lot of other things ahead of me, and I knew that I wasn't ready to have a child. I felt very alone. I was very scared. I had seen signs for a crisis pregnancy center in the area. I had no clue that they were an institution with an agenda. They told me that abortion would affect my mental health. They told me that women that had abortions went crazy, that women had committed suicide. They told me that there was a connection between having an abortion and being diagnosed later in life with breast cancer. I didn't know that what they were telling me wasn't true. I didn't know that they had no obligation to tell me the truth. They came to my dorm afterwards, they called me on the phone, they left materials under my doorstep. It felt like they would stop at nothing to prevent me from making this decision.

Crisis pregnancy centers exist for the sole purpose of dissuading women from seeking an abortion. They are willing to advance that cause by any number of nefarious methods from naming themselves to sound like a medical clinic, to distributing medically inaccurate information, to emotionally bullying women when they are perhaps the most vulnerable.

We've heard from a lot of women who have gone to these crisis pregnancy centers and what they tell us is, this is a brainwashing outfit. You walk in the door and people start giving you misinformation about what abortion would actually mean for your health.

The problem with the crisis pregnancy centers is they pretend they're doctor's offices. They pretend they're full-service health centers when they are none of those things.

It's not safe. I mean, aside from the fact that it's unconscionable, because these women need accurate information, but they also need medical care.

CPCs have existed for many, many years, and there have been many bills floating around the state levels across the country trying to regulate them, trying to address some of these deceptive tactics. Unfortunately, many of them have not passed.

The National Institute for Reproductive Health launched the Urban Initiative at a summit in 2008, here in New York City. Since the launch of the initiative, we've built a network of over 800 participants, including elected officials, public health leaders, and advocates working on the ground in over 30 cities across the country.

One of the central tenants of the Urban Initiative is this idea that the municipal level, the local level, should be seen as a place where you can affect real change.

In the fall of 2009, NIRH hosted a summit in Denver, Colorado. At the time of the summit, Baltimore was already in the process of introducing the Disclosure Ordinance for crisis pregnancy centers. From that idea, our contact with the City of Austin and the political director from NARAL had the realization that this is an ordinance that could probably work in Austin as well.

The conversation at the Denver Urban Initiative was fundamental to us getting our Crisis Pregnancy Center Ordinance started and then passed. It was a real great opportunity to touch base with the advocates in the community and get a sense of what the needs are so that we could then address those needs at the local level.

I returned to Austin and immediately started working on an ordinance for Austin. Our ordinance requires crisis pregnancy centers to post a sign that explicitly states that they do not provide or refer for abortions, and that they do not provide or refer for birth control services.

We are looking at passing this ordinance in other cities in the state. Knowing that there's a model they can work from means that they have the opportunity to replicate with less effort on their part.

We've had ongoing conversations with both New York, and at the staff level, with Baltimore to discuss how we can move these things forward, what works in our communities and what doesn't work, and I think we're going to see more and more of that over time.

Here in New York City, our advocacy arm, NARAL Pro-Choice New York, essentially did exactly what our partners did in other localities. We conducted an undercover investigation of CPCs that have been doing their manipulative work in New York City for years.

As part of the CPC investigation, I personally went into 13 CPCs in greater New York. The goal to do this investigation is really to find out what actually goes on there, to see if any lies were told, or if any misinformation was given. I was actually in shock. I just didn't know how these CPCs giving out blatant lies could exist in New York City.

The NARAL Pro-Choice New York report was more than helpful. It was critical. It documented that problem, which therefore gave us a roadmap to find the solution, this legislation.

We talked about this bill as being a real truth in advertising measure because a woman has a right to know, when she walks into an office, if it's a medical facility or it's not. And, the other big piece of this is, these women give incredibly personal information to these centers, and this bill requires them to treat that confidentially. So, that was an important thing that we did that hasn't been done anywhere else in the country.

The law we passed here in the city is pretty simple. It says say what you are. Say if you're a medical officer. Say if you provide abortion services. Say if you provide emergency contraception. Our law supports people's first amendment rights. It simply does not support people's rights to deceive women in the city of New York.

The crisis pregnancy center laws that have been passed by Austin and Baltimore, and New York City, they're being challenged, but the reality is, Supreme Court jurisprudence on commercial speech allows this kind of straightforward consumer protection regulation.

The Urban Initiative really provided the strategy for thinking that you can do this work locally and that you can create real positive change and victories, pro-choice victories, at the local level. Our goal is to create a movement, to have each of these bills be not just an isolated victory, but really to address these crisis pregnancy centers one urban area at a time.

No woman should have to go through what I went through. No woman should feel so alone or be harassed by anybody about the decision that they're going to make.

There may be small errors in this transcript.
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