On December 4, 2009 Baltimore, Maryland Mayor Sheila Dixon signed into law Council Bill 09-0406, which requires the city’s crisis pregnancy centers to post signage stating that they do not make referrals or provide services for abortion or birth control. The Baltimore City Council passed the bill on November 23rd by a vote of 12–3. Council President Stephanie Rawlings-Blake was the lead sponsor of the bill. The bill is the first measure of its kind in the country to become law.[i]
A broad coalition of reproductive rights advocates supported the bill, including Baltimore Healthy Start, Inc., Baltimore NOW, Catholics for Choice, Healthcare for the Homeless, the Maryland Chapter of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, NARAL Pro-Choice Maryland, Planned Parenthood of Maryland, University of Baltimore School of Law Center on Applied Feminism, and numerous local physicians, nurses, and social workers.[ii]
Crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) typically advertise as providing free medical services to women facing an unexpected pregnancy. They offer free pregnancy tests and “pregnancy options counseling,” however, these centers use anti-abortion propaganda, misinformation, and fear and shame tactics to dissuade women from considering all of their reproductive health options. CPCs do not provide comprehensive birth control or abortion services to clients or referrals for such services.[iii]
In 2007 NARAL Pro-Choice Maryland conducted an in-depth investigation of 11 CPCs located within the Baltimore metro area. Staff and trained volunteers visited each center and reviewed the centers’ websites along with the brochures they distributed.[iv] The investigation revealed that all of the centers provided false and misleading information about the risks associated with abortion in at least one form. Findings from a report on the investigation state that 54 percent of the CPCs provided misinformation verbally, 63 percent included misinformation on their websites, and 81 percent distributed pamphlets containing inaccurate information on the risks associated with abortion.
Under the law, which will apply to the four crisis pregnancy centers in Baltimore, facilities will have to post at least one sign in a waiting area stating, in both English and Spanish, that it does not provide services or referrals for abortion or birth control. Centers that fail to comply with the law will be given 10 days to post a sign and afterwards fined $150.00.[v]
“This law will empower women by giving them full information up front about what to expect from a limited service pregnancy center. This provision does not ask a facility to provide any services they find objectionable, but only asks them to tell the truth about the nature of their services. We applaud Mayor Dixon for signing this important bill,” stated Jennifer Blasdell, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Maryland, in a press release.[vi]
A similar measure also has been introduced in Montgomery County, Maryland. Montgomery County Council Member Duchy Trachtenberg is sponsoring the bill, which would require CPCs to provide a written or oral disclaimer during first communication with a client stating that the information provided by the center “is not intended to be medical advice or to establish a doctor-patient relationship” and telling the client to “consult with a healthcare provider” before making a decision about her pregnancy.[vii] A public hearing on the bill was held on December 1st. The bill has not yet come to a vote.
[i] Julie Scharper, “Pregnancy Center Sign Bill Passes,” The Baltimore Sun, 24 November 2009, accessed 10 December 2009, <http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/baltimore-city/bal-md.abortion24nov24,0,6779349.story>.
[ii] NARAL Pro-Choice Maryland, “NARAL Pro-Choice Maryland Applauds Passage of the Limited-Service Pregnancy Centers Disclaimers Bill,” Press Release published 23 November 2009, accessed 10 December 2009, <http://www.prochoicemaryland.org/news/press/200911231.shtml>.
[iv] The Truth Revealed: Maryland Crisis Pregnancy Centers Investigations, NARAL Pro-Choice Maryland, 14 January 2008, accessed 10 December 2009, <http://www.prochoicemaryland.org/assets/files/cpcreportfinal.pdf>.
[v] Limited-Service Pregnancy Centers – Disclaimers, Sections 3-502–3-503 and 40-14–41-14, <http://www.mdrtl.org/files/Baltimore_PCC_Disclaimer_Bill.pdf>.
[vi] NARAL Pro-Choice Maryland, “NARAL Pro-Choice Maryland Applauds Signing of the Limited-Service Pregnancy Centers Disclaimers Bill,” Press Release published 4 December 2009, accessed 14 December 2009, <http://www.prochoicemaryland.org/news/press/200912041.shtml>.