Austin City Council Considering “Truth in Advertising” Ordinance for CPCs

The city of Austin, Texas is considering passing an ordinance to require so-called crisis pregnancy centers to post a notice that they do not provide birth control, abortion services or referrals to abortion providers.

The city of Austin, Texas is considering passing an ordinance to require so-called crisis pregnancy centers to post a notice that they do not provide birth control, abortion services or referrals to abortion providers. The Austin Chronicle reports:

On the Austin City Council’s agenda for its April 8 meeting is a proposed ordinance that would require so-called “crisis pregnancy centers” to post a sign to notify consumers that they do not provide or make referrals for either abortion or contraceptive services.

If the ordinance is enacted, Austin would become the second city in the nation to provide the consumer alert for clients visiting CPCs – unlicensed centers that provide pregnancy tests and pregnancy “counseling,” but do not offer any medical services. “We are simply requiring limited service pregnancy centers to disclose what is factual and true about the services they offer,” Council member Bill Spelman, who is sponsoring the ordinance, said in a press release. [bold type in original story as quoted.]

On Tuesday the Archdiocese of Baltimore filed a lawsuit against the City of Baltimore saying that the ordinance violated their right to freedom of speech and religion. The Austin Chronicle explains:

To be clear, the Baltimore ordinance – like that proposed by Spelman (and co-sponsored by Laura Morrison and Mayor Pro Tem Mike Martinez) – defines the centers as “limited-service pregnancy centers” and requires only that those facilities that do not provide the range of reproductive health services post a notice to that effect. Indeed, as with the proposed Austin ordinance, the Baltimore law does not require any CPC to actually provide or make referrals for either of those services.

The Austin ordinance would likely apply to a handful of CPCs in the city, and is said by its authors not meant to hurt their businesses – rather, it is meant, as a “truth-in-advertising” law, to protect women, as consumers. “Regardless of how one feels about birth control or safe, legal abortion, this ordinance is about providing accurate information,” said Martinez.  [bold type in original story as quoted.]

The Texas state government provides some funding to CPCs through its “Alternatives to Abortion” program.

Indeed, in 2005 lawmakers took $5 million that would otherwise go to providers of traditional family-planning services for low-income women to create (via a budget rider) the new “Alternatives to Abortion” program, as a way to directly fund CPCs and task them with “promoting childbirth.” In a series of articles, the Chronicle found that the money hasn’t exactly done much to provide women with any real services – aside from referring them to other state and federal programs, and providing a nice annual raise for Vincent Friedewald, the executive director of the Texas Pregnancy Care Network, which administers the state contract. Still, in the 2009 session – a bad budget year – lawmakers allocated an additional $3 million over the biennium for the program, boosting the Alternative to Abortion budget by a whopping 60%.

In spending that money, the state-funded CPCs are not required to be licensed or regulated, nor are they required to provide any medical services at all. The city of Austin proposed ordinance is only seeking to make clear what services a woman can expect when visiting a CPC: “Women facing an unintended pregnancy need to understand what services are available to them,” Morrison said in a press release. “This ordinance helps ensure that.”

Sara Cleveland, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas released a statement:

NARAL Pro-Choice Texas has long worked to expose the deceptive practices of certain CPCs, publishing multiple research reports about them since 2005. Many CPCs list themselves in phone and online directories under the headings “abortion,” “abortion alternatives,” “family planning information centers” or “women’s health organization” even though the abortion service they provide is to dissuade women from exercising their right to choose by using anti-choice propaganda.

“We should all be able to agree with the ordinance’s goals of truth in advertising. Lines are crossed when a CPC is not up front about its services, or when a center uses misinformation,” continued Cleveland. NARAL Pro-Choice Texas investigated three centers in Austin, all of which gave misinformation about abortion or birth control and none of which would provide a referral, even for birth control.

You can read NARAL Pro-Choice Texas 2009 report on CPCs here.