With very peccable timing, a handful of local officials are launching legislative assaults on popular pregnancy care centers even as Congress debates health care reforms it claims will promote more choice and competition. The assaults began in Baltimore where the City Council passed a law last week imposing regulations and penalties on the overwhelmingly privately funded centers that provide pregnancy-related services to some of the city’s neediest women.
The Council’s ostensible concern was that the centers misrepresent their services by failing to inform new clients what they don’t offer – abortion and contraceptives. What the centers do offer is not in dispute and is widely valued by their clients – confirmation of pregnancy; sexually transmitted infection/disease counseling; relationship counseling; food, clothing and prenatal vitamins; and referral to an array of community resources for family and medical support – all services provided at little or no cost to the clients or to taxpayers.
Baltimore officials rejected suggestions from some council members that it regulate Planned Parenthood of Maryland and other agencies that offer abortion and contraception, but do not provide material assistance to mothers. Meanwhile, officials in Montgomery County, Maryland are taking up the issue as well.
Ironically, these challenges follow on the heels of newly published information about the quality and depth of the services pregnancy resource centers provide in the United States. The information was quantified for the first time in a collaborative report released by the Family Research Council in September. The report demonstrates the medical accuracy standards the centers follow and the international scope of their networks. Among other findings, the centers:
- Assist an average of 5,500 Americans daily with sexuality-and pregnancy-related concerns;
- Offer parenting classes to new mothers through nearly 70 percent of centers nationwide;
- Provide medically referenced literature, reviewed by national-level experts, on prenatal/fetal development, risk avoidance/primary prevention of sexually transmitted infection and disease, and the physical and psychological risks of abortion;
- Provide live, 24-hour-a-day, seven-days-per-week accessibility to centers via Option Line, a national telephone hotline and web site that averages 20,000 contacts per month;
- Includes an international network of more than 60 centers in Canada, and another 40-plus countries worldwide from Romania, to Vietnam, to Zambia, and beyond;
- Rely on the engagement of more than 40,000 trained volunteers, including professional counselors and medical personnel, many of whom were honored last year at the White House.
With a national debate underway over cost containment and patient choice in health care, attacks on the privately supported and publicly popular centers are incomprehensible.