Testify: Washington Crisis Pregnancy Center Bill Receives Hearing

Today Washington State advocates for and against a bill mandating limited service pregnancy centers provide accurate, clear, honest and timely information about their services turned out by the hundreds. If the legislation passes, Washington State will become the first in the nation to legislate crisis pregnancy centers statewide.

Testimony was heard today before the Washington State Senate for the Limited Service Pregnancy Center Accountability Act (SB 5274) and both sides are clearly ready for the fight. Women’s health and rights advocates have unified in support of the bill which aims to ensure that the LSPCs (also known as crisis pregnancy centers) present honest and accurate information, conspicuously, about the services they do and do not provide for women.

Jennifer Adams testified as a former CPC client, in front of the House Health Care and Wellness Committee about the bill last week,

“As a 30 year old woman, I visited a limited service pregnancy center. I went for a simple pregnancy test, but what I got was a lecture about not being married and a long list of intrusive personal questions before the staff at the center would give me my pregnancy test results…And to make matters worse, when I requested my pregnancy test results in writing a few days later, the center refused. The experience was extremely upsetting and also delayed my access to pre-natal care.”

Alison Mondi, Director of Communication & Public Policy Director for NARAL Pro-Choice Washington, told Rewire that supporters of the legislation in attendance numbered over 100, though both those who support and oppose the bill were there and numbers “exceeded the capacity of both the hearing room and the overflow room.” According to the video of the testimony, more than 300 people signed up to testify both for and against the bill.

In a release, Planned Parenthood Votes! Washington list supporters as including:

  • More than 10,000 petition signatures and postcards, from Seattle to Spokane and Bellingham to Vancouver
  • More than 5,000 legislator contacts
  • More than 100 attendees at the House Health Care and Wellness Committee hearing on the legislation (video of the hearing available here)

The legislation is sponsored by Senator Kevin Ranker and Representative Judy Clibborn and requires these centers to: make clear that they do not provide services or referrals for abortion or comprehensive birth control, protect the privacy of women’s medical information, and provide pregnancy test results immediately. There is nothing in the bill which can be construed as onerous or imposing mandates that would force a center to close its doors.

As previously reported, one of the hallmarks of most of the crisis pregnancy centers in the state, is the effort to delay provision of or refuse to release pregnancy test results to patients. An investigation undertaken in the state by Planned Parenthood and Legal Voice, a legal advocacy organization for women and families, revealed center staff were systematically engaging in stall tactics in order to refuse to provide women with their own pregnancy test results or medical records. The authors of the report written about the investigation noted that staff women at the crisis pregnancy centers will,

“…withhold a woman’s private records generated during her visit if they believe the woman will later seek an abortion.”

In Washington State, with a positive pregnancy test, women who cannot afford health care and do not have private health insurance can access Medicaid to pay for prenatal care or an abortion. Among those who testified at today’s Senate hearing was Dr. Kate McLean, an Ob-Gyn, speaking on behalf of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology. According to Mondi, McLean spoke in support of the bill emphasizing the importance of disclosure of women’s pregnancy test results and medical records in a timely manner – regardless of whether a woman’s ultimate decision is to carry the pregnancy to term or have an abortion. McLean noted that when women visit the centers not knowing what type of care they will or won’t receive, it only delays access to actual medical care. If a woman is pregnant, care is needed plain and simple.

The Slog, the blog of Seattle’s The Stranger, reported on the perspective of those who oppose the bill and the reaction from Planned Parenthood,

“This is the second year in a row Planned Parenthood has [pushed] essentially to sue pregnancy centers out of existence,” Senator Cheryl Pflug (R-5) remarked to Dr. Kate McLean, an OBGYN doctor with the University of Washington Medical Center who was testifying in support of the bill. “But have we seen any measures from the life centers demanding that Planned Parenthood show pictures of aborted fetuses?” Pflug then name-checked a widely discredited study that claimed to show a correlation between breast cancer and abortion before asking McLean, “So do you think we should require physicians to disclose that [abortion causes breast cancer]?”

Dr. McLean, and others, ignored the baseless points raised by conservative lawmakers to patiently restate the bill’s purpose: To make pregnancy centers disclose the services they do and don’t provide to the women who walk through their doors, and hold them accountable when they fail. “We have no problem with the centers—they offer women valuable services like free diapers, pregnancy tests, counseling,” explained Elaine Rose, the CEO of Planned Parenthood Votes of Washington. “But they deliberately locate their clinics near us and don’t disclose the limits of their services. We have clients who tell us they walk in their doors mistaking their clinics for ours. We’re trying to prevent that deception.”

Apparently, Pflug doesn’t understand the difference between disclosure of services offered and disclosure of detailed accounts of what said services involve? Interestingly, Pflug makes a very clear argument for exactly why limited service pregnancy centers need legislation mandating honesty: their anti-legal abortion agenda.

Jennifer Adams, the young woman quoted above, testified at the Senate hearing today, about her experiences with the local Care Net facility. Adams was one of those women who visited Care Net to get confirmation that she was pregnant – because she wanted to be pregnant. Instead of results, she says she received judgement and delays.  

Sasha Summer Cousineau of NARAL Pro-Choice Washington told Rewire that more than one LSPC executive director testified today that their centers do make clear the fact that they do not provide abortion services by noting it on intake forms. One ED even testified that they ask clients to initial next to the section of the form that states they do not offer abortion care.

Senator Karen Keisner, a sponsor of the bill, wondered out loud, then, why these centers would be opposed to the legislation, if they are already doing that which the legislation mandates?

The next step is for the bill to be addressed in a possible Senate executive session.