Yesterday afternoon, in a testy hearing  (my dispatches from yesterday's action here) pitting pro-vs.-anti-choice factions in Olympia, Democratic state legislators introduced legislation that would require "limited service pregnancy centers," frequently operated by religious groups, to disclose the fact that they don't provide abortions, their religious affiliations, and the fact that they're primarily nonprofits, not medical clinics.

Although the bill's primary sponsor, Sen. Rodney Tom (D-48), insisted that the bill wasn't about a woman's right to choose, the crowd—filled with pink-shirted pro-choicers  and sticker-wearing anti-choicers—disagreed.

One man even pulled a Joe Wilson, interrupting American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists spokeswoman Kate Mclean to yell, “Lies!” when she pointed out that abortions do not cause breast cancer (a common, though inaccurate, claim by abortion opponents).

On the pro side, young women testified about harrowing experiences at the hands of limited-service pregnancy centers. College student Glynnis Kirchmeier, described how Tacoma Carenet had refused to provide her with a copy of her pregnancy test results to her, offering to fax a copy to her doctor only if she promised not to use the information to obtain an abortion. Kirchmeier also claimed she was “told by a volunteer.. that the CDC says condoms break 50% of the time.”

Alyssa Piraino’s story wasn’t much better. The college sophomore went to a crisis pregnancy center to get a pregnancy test. Afterward, she testified, the staff “started asking me more personal questions, [like], who is the father of my baby, my religion, my friends and family.”

Those who opposed the bill argued that crisis pregnancy centers don't misrepresent the services they provided (or don't provide). Paula Cullen, a nurse and founding director of Life Services of Spokane, testified that pregnancy centers "strictly protect" confidentiality. Cullen also said that her center has clients sign a contract that discloses the center's position on abortion before providing any services. "We are not medical, but we do not say that we are,” Cullen said.

Both sides made some compelling points. Opponents of the bill expressed concern that it would lead to a loss of First Amendment rights. Sen. Ed Murray (D-43) echoed their concern, saying, “As I read the bill, I wondered if there isn’t an issue of civil liberties and civil rights involved. If gay people got together and formed a gay organization and put out their belief on an issue ... don’t they have a right to do that, and wouldn’t these [crisis pregnancy] organizations also have that right?”

On the flip side, Kirchmeier said her testimony that “any ethical institution should have no problem disclosing exactly what services they provide as soon as they have contact with the patient,” putting the spotlight back on the centers.
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