On Tuesday morning, both the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times ran pieces on New York City legislation introduced to create strict disclosure rules for crisis pregnancy centers. (Similar legislation was recently passed in Baltimore, Md., and Austin, Texas.) The pro-abortion crowd claims that the neutral image presented by some centers is deceptive. “Women who are scared and vulnerable and having a very tough decision to make have a right to factually accurate medical information, and the fact that these folks would purposely try to mislead them is not right,” says Council Member Jessica Lappin in the Wall Street Journal. But are the crisis centers providing misinformation to women or purposely trying to mislead them?
Expectant Mother Care, also known as EMC FrontLine, runs the majority of crisis pregnancy centers in New York City. EMC has ads in various newspapers and occasionally on the subway that read, simply, “Free Abortion Alternatives.” This seems straightforward enough, but in point of fact, women do sometimes find this confusing. I once witnessed a counselor repeatedly trying to explain to a caller that no, EMC does not provide free abortions, but free abortion alternatives: information, options, choices.
Clearly, EMC is aware that some women are confused by this ad, and surely EMC knows that this confusion ensures that more women who are truly abortion-minded walk through their doors than would if the ads included a long list of what EMC does not do. But does this amount to deception?
There is no falsehood in the simple ad: EMC does offer free abortion alternatives. When women arrive at the center, the facts about abortion are discussed, and women are certainly encouraged to consider keeping their babies. Many do — over 2,400 so far this year. Many don’t — 5,000 so far this year — and they are free to walk across the street or ride the elevator down to the local Planned Parenthood office, where they will certainly be able to get an abortion. There doesn’t seem to be a terrible injustice here.
What really rankles the abortion advocates is what the women hear inside the crisis center. The promoters of abortion claim that the crisis centers “feed women information that has been medically refuted,” according to New York Times columnist Susan Dominus. But there are significant negative health effects associated with induced abortion. By 2008, for instance, 59 studies had shown a statistically significant increase in the risk of pre-term birth and low birth weight in future pregnancies for women who have had induced abortions. Increased risk of placenta previa in future pregnancies is also well established. And much to the chagrin of the abortion-is-no-big-deal crowd, there is a substantial body of medical literature indicating that induced abortion leads to increased risk of negative mental-health outcomes, including suicide ideation, alcohol dependence, illegal-drug dependence, major depression, and anxiety disorder. The anecdotal evidence is strong as well, as a visit to www.afterabortion.com, a politically neutral forum for women mourning abortions, will quickly make clear.
In 2008, the latest year for which data are available, there were 89,469 abortions in New York City, while there were 127,680 live births. This means that 41 percent of pregnancies ended in abortion in New York, far beyond the national rate of about 23 percent. In the Bronx, a full 48 percent of pregnancies ended in abortion. With rates as high as these, any medical risks associated with abortion could amount to a public-health crisis, as the disturbing rise in the rate of pre-term birth may already indicate. Policymakers should be discussing what can possibly be done to lower the rate of abortion in New York.
But instead, city legislators are busy pushing legislation to ensure that no woman ever gets confused by a straightforward advertisement run by an organization committed to offering her hope and a better, safer alternative to abortion. No damage is done when a woman sits down with a compassionate, sympathetic counselor who tries to present accurate information in the hope that the woman will reconsider her plans to abort her baby. If she isn’t convinced, she can go across the street and avail herself of Planned Parenthood’s “services.” But there is a good chance that she won’t hear anything there about the possible long-term effects of the abortion on her physical and mental health, and on the health of her future children. A more sensible regulation would be to require abortion clinics to post a sign that informs women of the increased risk of pre-term birth and low birth weight in future pregnancies. That would be a pro-woman regulation.
When asked for his opinion on the proposed law, Mayor Bloomberg was agnostic. “I want to make sure that people have access to advice and to counsel and to medical assistance for whatever they do,” he told Wall Street Journal blogger Michael Howard Saul. “And I’ve, as you know, always been a big supporter of a woman’s right to choose. But if somebody wants counseling on how to keep the baby, that’s certainly as important as advice on what to do if you don’t.” Well said, Mr. Mayor.
“It would be a great world if nobody needed an abortion. Nobody’s in favor of abortion,” Bloomberg said. But the mayor is wrong. Speaker Quinn, Council Member Lappin, and their friends at Planned Parenthood and NARAL are in favor of abortion. When the head of the city’s legislative body and local subsidiaries of some of the most powerful organizations in the country attack fewer than 20 shoestring operations in New York City that offer free abortion alternatives, while nearly 90,000 women procure an abortion every year in the city, it is clear that it’s not about choice. It’s about abortion.
— Greg Pfundstein is the executive director of the Chiaroscuro Foundation.