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Sunday, March 13, 2011
Pregnancy 'clinics' bait and switch?
Pregnancy clinics that pretend to be real clinics have pulled a bait and switch on women who didn't realize the only real service being provided was to read Bible scripture and show apprehensive potential mothers grisly photographs of abortions in an attempt to talk them into keeping the baby.
Five years later, Jennifer Adams can still remember the Bible verse: "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God."
It was read to her by a worker in the small room of the "pregnancy clinic" that Adams had found in the phone book, looking for a free pregnancy test.
As Adams waited for her results, the woman asked about her life: Married? Boyfriend, then? Was she living with him? Yes? Then she handed her a Bible opened to Romans 3:23.
"I saw the verse and I thought: 'I don't need to do this,' and I shut the book," Adams told me. "I am not going to read something that tells me I am a terrible person."
Meanwhile, her test results — positive — were sitting on the sink behind them the whole time. (She kept the baby; a little girl, now 5.)
Still, "I wish they could have said, 'Here are your results; here are your choices,' " Adams said. "I was 30 and I had a job and a house and boyfriend. What's going to happen to someone who is 16?"
Pretty much the same thing, now that a bill that required so-called "limited service pregnancy clinics" to disclose what they do and do not provide — namely, abortion and family planning services — failed to pass through the Legislature this week.
The bill would have required clinics to state up front (over the phone, e-mail or in person) if they do not provide abortion or birth-control services. They would have also had to post the disclosure, in five languages, on their main entry doors, their intake areas, and on their websites' home page, as well as in advertisements. (For the record, at least one clinic, Care Net Pregnancy & Family Services in Tacoma, does say on its website that it "does not refer, help facilitate or provide abortions.")
If they didn't disclose, those affected could have sought an injunction; a second violation would have meant a $1,000 fine.
The bill's failure allows a bait and switch to be performed on the state's most vulnerable women: Those who need to know if they're pregnant, and what their options are — all of them.
State Rep. Judy Clibborn, D-Mercer Island, one of the sponsors of the bill, said that the clinics can do what they want because they don't charge and therefore aren't regulated.
On the same day that her bill was on the floor, the Senate was regulating tanning beds.
"All the disclosures they had to do ... " Clibborn said of the tanning businesses. "You go in there and you know what to expect. And it is because they are credentialed and regulated."
And yet, the clinics are free to hide their intentions.
State Rep. Joe Schmick, R-Colfax, who fought the bill, said it required too much of clinics to say what they don't do.
"I have a vending machine business, and it would be like me having to say that I don't sell car parts, or that I don't sell furniture," he said.
Stacey Baker, the communications director for the House Republican Caucus, said the nonprofit clinics should not be regulated by the state, since they are not taking money from the state.
The bill, she said, "sets an interesting precedent."
Kelly McDonald, of Tacoma, testified in favor of the bill. Now 37, she went to one of the clinics 10 years ago, after spotting its banner offering free pregnancy tests.
"I was made to wait for a really long time, and probed and prodded about what my plans were," said McDonald. "I said I planned to terminate and was made to wait again."
When the women assisting her came back into the room, they had literature about the effects of abortion, "with graphic photos," McDonald said.
"It hurts my heart to know that there are vulnerable people who may not speak English," she said. "Young girls who go into a place that purports to assist you."
Others have had their test results withheld, or not given to the Department of Social and Health Services, as promised, in order for them to receive further care, according to a report prepared by Legal Voice, a nonprofit focused on women's legal rights.
Such delays impede prenatal medical care, put women's health in jeopardy and make them feel more confused than when they walked in the door.
"We need to let people know what these places really are," said Sara Ainsworth, senior counsel at Legal Voice, who helped shepherd the legislation. "They are not health-care providers, and women really think they are going to a medical clinic. The impression is deliberate."
Clibborn plans to introduce the bill again next year.
For now, she is telling anyone who will listen about what these clinics do, and won't do.
God knows some of them don't.