Six years ago, when I was still writing for the Washington Times, I heard that the city of Baltimore was compelling crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) to post notices saying they don’t do referrals for abortion or birth control services.
This struck me as a bit odd, in that how many businesses must post notices saying what they do not offer? I couldn’t think of any.
The Archdiocese of Baltimore, which operated some of those CPCs, sued the city and eventually won. I covered that debate and a similar law that was floated in Montgomery County, Md., just outside of Washington DC. The latter was also struck down in court. Similar efforts were mounted in Austin, Texas and in New York, but both also lost in court.
Which is why I was surprised that the same law was being proposed in California. Here is what the New York Times said:
EL CAJON, Calif. -- “Free Pregnancy Testing,” reads the large sign in front of the East County Pregnancy Care Clinic, on a busy intersection of this impoverished city east of San Diego.
Inside the clinic, a woman will not only receive a free pregnancy test, but she will also see a counselor to discuss her options. She will see models of fetuses at early stages of development, which show that “at Week 12, you see a recognizable human,” said Josh McClure, the executive director of the clinic. If she is pregnant, she can receive a free ultrasound and attend childbirth classes. If she gives birth, she may receive help with diapers and a car seat.
What she will not receive from this center is advice on where to obtain an abortion.
The clinic is one of more than 3,000 crisis pregnancy centers around the country that are operated by religious opponents of abortion, with the heartfelt aim of persuading women to choose parenting or adoption. Now it and others in California are in a First Amendment battle with the state over a new law that requires them to post a notice that free or low-cost abortion, contraception and prenatal care are available to low-income women through public programs, and to provide the phone number to call.
The clinics argue that the law, which took effect in January, flagrantly violates their rights of free speech, and it appears that many of the dozens of licensed pregnancy centers in California are not yet complying.
“I don’t want to put up a sign telling you where you can go for an abortion,” said Mr. McClure of the clinic here, which is a plaintiff in one of several legal challenges. “The sign is not up here now because it’s unconstitutional.”
There were a number of questions the Times team didn’t ask.
First, the organization behind this California law, NARAL Pro-Choice America, has been gunning for the CPCs for a long time. Instead of accepting NARAL’s narrative of being a disinterested party that’s simply trying to improve women’s access to abortion, why not ask whether these CPCs are major competition for abortion clinics? Isn’t this more of a business story in that here we have one sort of service provider trying to drive the other out of the marketplace entirely?
The article goes on to disparage some of the information handed out by these CPCs, including literature the article says is outdated or “misleading” in terms of an abortion-breast cancer link. The major legal organization representing the CPCs is called “conservative” twice in the story whereas none of the abortion industry’s spokespersons are called “liberal.”
The bottom line: This article lacked the journalistic distance that reporters should have. Where is the sense of balance and fairness?
Why didn't the reporter point out the incongruity the government creating special speech rules that just apply to CPCs? If CPCs must post a sign saying what they don’t offer, why aren’t abortion clinics forced to do the same thing? Do kosher delis have to tell customers they don’t sell pork?
And what’s up with this national campaign to shut down CPCs -- which has been unsuccessful thus far in other states -- but is now being tried in California? Why not look into that? What about the previous court cases?
Several other media outlets have reported on this battle, including the Los Angeles Times, which reached a low point in labeling the CPCs “religious pregnancy centers.” One of the LAT's op-eds labeled them “so-called” crisis pregnancy centers, so you can see where this coverage is heading.
Again, reporters aren’t asking the obvious: Do the people who formed this law think women are so stupid, they can’t find an abortion clinic in the Yellow Pages or online?
And last spring, a Los Angeles Times columnist profiled a young woman who did undercover surveillance at multiple CPCs as an agent of NARAL. Which brings up another question. Why is it OK for an abortion proponent to go undercover at CPCs, but it’s illegal for videographers to record Planned Parenthood officials?
I’m just saying, people, that there are a lot more levels to these stories than meets the eye. At least try to explore some of them.