(CNSNews.com) – A bill passed by the Baltimore City Council in November and signed into law on Dec. 4 will require pregnancy resource centers operating within the city to post signs stating what services the facilities do not offer. Signs -- to be posted outside the centers -- must state that they do not provide or give referrals for abortion or contraceptives.
Pro-life activists say this is the first time in the United States that a nonprofit service provider has been required to post such signage. They believe the law is intended to undermine their efforts to help women make an informed decision about an unplanned pregnancy. The signs will turn more women to Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers, they say.
“The passage of this piece of legislation may serve as serious encouragement to those who would like to see our organizations saddled with more laws and restrictions,” Carol Clews, executive director of the Center for Pregnancy Concerns in Baltimore, told the Baltimore Sun after the council passed the bill by a 12-3 vote in November.
“I cannot think of a single situation where a non-profit organization or for-profit business is required to post a sign that states what it does not do,” Peggy Harnshorn, president of Heartbeat International said in a statement submitted at a hearing held prior to the vote on the bill.
“Planned Parenthood is not required to post a sign that states it does not provide adoption services. A car dealership is not required to post a sign that states that it does not sell bicycles or offer landscaping services,” Harnshorn added.
Planned Parenthood does have information on adoption, but according to its 2007-2008 annual report, only about 5,000 women were referred to adoption services while more than 305,000 abortions were performed at its clinics around the country.
Joe Young, vice president at Heartbeat International, a network of pregnancy resource centers around the world, said Planned Parenthood and other providers don’t offer abortions free of charge, which is the case for the services offered at centers. Those services include free pregnancy testing, parenting classes, support groups and connecting clients with services in the community that can help them with pre-natal care, housing, counseling and other support. At medically certified centers, clients can be tested for sexually transmitted diseases and get ultrasound exams, which can determine a viable pregnancy at its earliest stages.
“I am very disappointed that the Baltimore City Council would jump into the abortion issue by singling out non-profit pregnancy resource centers,” Young told CNSNews.com.
“These centers are among the few places that women in Baltimore can get medically accurate information to make a truly informed choice when facing a life changing and difficult decision about an unplanned pregnancy.
“Pregnancy centers serve the women of Baltimore without financial motivation and present the truth about all of the options available,” Young said. “The same cannot be said about the abortion providers in Baltimore and yet, they are not affected by this ordinance.”
Young, who attended the hearings in Baltimore, said that the pregnancy resource centers affected by the new law provided as evidence during hearings the paperwork that clients at the centers must sign to get services, which include a disclaimer that neither abortions nor contraceptive services or referrals are included.
Not one witness at the hearings who had used the services of a pregnancy resource center testified that they felt misled, Young said, adding that groups like NARAL Pro-Choice America and Planned Parenthood have a vested interest in undermining the work done by the centers.
“It ultimately cuts into the profit margins of abortion centers,” Young said.
Melinda Delahoyde, president of Care Net, which supports more than 1,000 pregnancy resource centers around the country, said in a written statement that money should have been considered when the bill was debated.
“It is nonsensical for the Baltimore City Council to undermine local efforts to provide free support to pregnant women in this city, but that’s exactly what they’ve accomplished with this legislation,” Delahoyde said. “Wouldn’t it make more sense for the Baltimore City Council to pass a resolution praising the contribution of pregnancy centers, which rely solely on charitable contributions, not on state or local funding?”
Planned Parenthood received $349.6 million in federal funding, according to its 2007-08 annual report, although federal law states none of that funding can be used for abortions.
Bill 09-0406 was sponsored by Baltimore City Council President Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, a Democrat and outspoken pro-abortion advocate. It was signed into law by Mayor Sheila Dixon three days after she was convicted of embezzling $600 worth of gift cards intended for charity.