By Honora Gandhi
Last night NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina presented a resolution to the Chapel Hill Town Council opposing the deceptive practices of Crisis Pregnancy Centers in North Carolina, and the Town Council voted unanimously to pass it. Crisis Pregnancy Centers (CPCs) are heavily advertised resources for women facing unintended pregnancies. What isn’t advertised is that the majority of CPCs are funded and staffed by medically-uncertified anti-choice activists who provide misleading and medically inaccurate information to clients, exaggerating (and more often inventing) abortion risks and side effects to intimidate women into ruling out abortion as an option.
As Suzanne Buckley, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina, said at last night’s meeting, “This is not about abortion, pro-choice or pro-life, [. . .] I think everyone can agree that no one should be misled about their health care options.”
We heard three impassioned speeches from those in favor of the resolution. First from Suzanne Buckley, who brought a petition of 700 Chapel Hill residents’ signatures to stress the importance of providing women medically accurate information and ending the deceptive, misleading practices of CPCs. She referenced NARAL’s 2011 report, The Truth Revealed: North Carolina’s Crisis Pregnancy Centers, which examined the services and practices of 66 of our state’s CPCs. 92% of these had no medical professionals on staff, while only 24% disclose that they are not medical facilities. 26% incorrectly stated as fact that abortion leads to breast cancer, and 48% advised women seeking family planning services that none of the common methods of birth control are effective at preventing pregnancy.
Katie Maness spoke next and just about brought us to tears stressing unity among young women. Because there is a crisis pregnancy center within 25 miles of every college campus in North Carolina, and many of their ads target young women, Maness asserted that it is especially unfair to target women in such a vulnerable position during an already tumultuous time in their lives. “Our sisters deserve better,” she said.
John Stanback, who has spent 25 years working as a public health professional in underserved areas abroad, said that when he promotes family planning and education overseas, US law requires him to report it if he sees the promotion of factually inaccurate medical advice. Stanback hopes that the same standards can be upheld here.
Mimi Every, Director of Pregnancy Support Services, was the only spokesperson on behalf of CPCs, and she delivered a weak defense insisting there is no coercion or misinformation at her particular center. As if it were a redeeming quality, she says her center has one part-time physician’s assistant on staff, as well as a medical director. If this is true, she should have no problem with a resolution requiring accuracy and transparency.
By passing the Accurate Health Information for a Stronger Community resolution, Chapel Hill became to first town in the Southeast to approve a resolution opposing deceptive practices in reproductive health care, to publicly recognize that women have a fundamental right to comprehensive and accurate medical information. If a woman seeks counsel at a CPC she should be fully aware of its limitations and bias.
The point we hoped everyone would take away was this: CPCs lie, with unmerited authority and their own agenda, to women in a vulnerable position. Women deserve the truth – they deserve counsel from unbiased medical professionals. NARAL isn’t in favor of abortion over keeping unintended pregnancies; we are in favor of women having the information necessary to make informed choices that are right for them. Every case is different; every woman and every life is different – no member of either side of the pro-choice/pro-life debate can pretend to know what an individual should do. What I hope is irrefutable is that no one should be intimidated into making a life-altering decision based on misinformation.
And that is exactly the purpose of the resolution we passed in Chapel Hill. It calls on the North Carolina General Assembly to pursue and uphold public policies that promote pregnancy-related counseling that is comprehensive, unbiased, and medically accurate.
After the Town Council meeting, our group of purple-shirted supporters was all smiles, breathing the sighs of relief that come with witnessing people in power doing the right thing.