Council expected to make last changes to abortion bill

Pregnancy clinics would have to post disclaimers or be fined if they don't provide abortion, birth control referrals

November 16, 2009|By Julie Scharper | julie.scharper@baltsun.com

The Baltimore City Council is expected to make final amendments tonight to a bill that would require crisis pregnancy clinics that don't provide abortion or birth control referrals to post disclaimers or face a fine.

Supporters of the measure, which would affect four city clinics, argue that it will prevent women from unwittingly receiving misleading or incomplete information. But anti-abortion groups say the bill unfairly targets centers that assist women with prenatal care, counseling and baby supplies.

"The pregnancy resources centers are the only agencies asked to put up a sign saying what they don't do," said Angela Martin, executive director of Maryland Right-to-Life. "They don't require grocery stores to put up a sign saying they don't sell hardware."

But abortion rights supporters say that women, drawn by offers of free pregnancy tests and counseling, can be misled that the clinics offer referrals to a full-range of services.

"If you see a sign such as a 'Pregnancy Concerns' and you're a woman in crisis, you're going to think you're going to get a certain type of service within those doors," said Keiren Havens, a vice president for Planned Parenthood of Maryland. Studies at both the national and state level have shown that women receive false information about birth control options and the risks associated with abortions at some pregnancy centers, she said.

The bill "is needed to secure women's access to accurate and safe medical information" and will not "hamper" the work of the pregnancy centers, Council President Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, the bill's primary sponsor, said in a statement.

Councilman James B. Kraft plans to offer an amendment to broaden the bill to include a range of several services that clinics could provide, such as financial help for new mothers. "If you're going to have the bill, it would need to apply across the board," he said.

The bill, which is up for a second vote tonight, has already been amended to allow centers a 10-day warning period to post a disclaimer after a violation is noted. The proposed fine for violating the law has been reduced from $500 to $150.

Mayor Sheila Dixon, while an abortion rights supporter, is "listening to the concerns of the community" on the measure and will reserve judgment until the bill is passed, spokesman Scott Peterson said.

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