Don't Punish Pro-lifers

Baltimore City Council's Sign Bill Seeks To Solve A Problem That Doesn't Exist

November 05, 2009|By Edwin F. O'Brien

In my first homily as the new archbishop of Baltimore, I made a firm and abiding commitment: "To all of those in crisis pregnancies, I pledge our support and our financial help. Let us walk with you through your time of trouble and find a new life with your child, or let us help you place that child in a loving home. But please, I beg you: Let us help you affirm life. Abortion need not be an 'answer' in this archdiocese."

Sadly, we can't even agree that birth is a preferable option to abortion. But surely we can at least find common ground in the abortion debate by ensuring that a woman facing a crisis pregnancy should not be forced into an abortion simply because she believes she will have no support if she chooses to bring her baby to term. Filling this void - and giving women genuine choices - is the worthy purpose of our city's pregnancy resource centers.

These centers provide emotional and material support - childbirth and parenting classes, diapers and formula, clothes, furniture, adoption assistance and referrals for social service programs - all going to pregnant women to help them remove obstacles to childbirth.

And yet, Planned Parenthood and NARAL clearly believe that this charitable work is a mission worth hindering. They are willing to distract the Baltimore City Council from the urgent issues facing our community by promoting unwarranted legislation that would impose daily fines on pregnancy resource centers unless they post signs stating that they do not provide abortion or contraception.

We vigorously oppose this bill and all that it represents, especially the suggestion that not providing abortion and contraception should be considered a punishable activity.

This is the second time in as many years that proponents have attempted to pass legislation in Maryland designed to discredit pregnancy resource centers precisely because of their pro-life mission. Two years ago, they attempted to pass a bill in the state legislature that would have required pro-life pregnancy resource centers to inform clients that they "are not required to provide factually accurate information." That proposal failed. Now, Planned Parenthood and NARAL's Web sites claim the bill before the City Council is "landmark" legislation and that it would be the first of its kind in the country.

Baltimore City should not become the first jurisdiction to pass legislation designed to penalize those giving pregnant women a genuine alternative to abortion.

At a committee hearing on the bill last week, abortion proponents were unable to produce a single actual client who said she was misled by a Baltimore pregnancy resource center.

In fact, a complaint has never been filed against the Greater Baltimore Center for Pregnancy Concerns, the largest such center in Baltimore, in the 29 years it's been open. State and local agencies often refer women to these centers because of their stellar reputation.

The only real client to testify at the hearing, Ebony Harris, spoke up for our pregnancy centers. Several years ago, she was pregnant and without support and turned first to a local abortion clinic, where she was told it would be cheaper and easier to abort her unborn child.

Disturbed by that response, she found her way to the Center for Pregnancy Concerns, which gave Ms. Harris what she needed: emotional and material support so she wouldn't feel forced to choose abortion because of a lack of resources.

The result is a now 3-year-old boy, who accompanied his mother to the hearing last week. The courageous choice of this woman and the beautiful face of her young son speak to the hope that is so desperately needed in our city, a hope she found thanks to the good work of the center.

While the bill, which was passed out of committee and moves to the full council, should have been rejected outright, the fact that proponents refused to let the same "truth in advertising" test be applied to abortion clinics is further evidence of the discriminatory nature of the legislation against pro-life organizations.

When I arrived two years ago, I pledged to the city leaders present at my first Mass "my commitment and collaboration in rebuilding this as a city worthy of all God's children." I urge those leaders today to stand with us in opposing this unwarranted bill, and the chilling message it sends to those whose only crime is a devotion to welcoming all God's children and not aborting them.

Archbishop Edwin F. O'Brien leads the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Baltimore. His e-mail is communications@archbalt.org.

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