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Are they pregnancy centers or faith-based ‘fronts’?

Are they health care facilities or faith-based pregnancy centers with an agenda? A new rule in King County now requires pregnancy service providers to answer that question up front.

Faith-based pregnancy care providers must now post signs notifying clients that they are not full-service medical centers. The King County Board of Health voted 11-1 in favor of a new rule Thursday. The centers are now required to post signs stating in 10 different languages: “This facility is not a healthcare facility.” The rule will be enforced via a complaint-based system.

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Rod Dembowski, Chair of the King County Board of Health and county council member says the rule is meant to ensure pregnant women get complete, timely and accurate information. He stresses that shutting down facilities is not the purpose, nor within the authority of, the rule. Board member and Seattle Councilmember Debora Juarez agrees.

“There is a reason we have a separation between church and state,” Juarez said, clarifying the rule. “This is regulatory matter … if an individual comes in they should know whether or not they are at a full-service medical facility, or ‘Am I at a counseling-like, faith-based service?’ That is what the issue is here … there has been a finding that these crisis centers are not clinics, and there’s nothing wrong with that. No one is saying that we are going to close these limited services down, but rather that signs will be posted.”

“Pregnancy is a medical condition; we are not here to debate whether it is a spiritual experience,” she said, noting that the services provided at the faith-based centers are wonderful, but limited.

King County Councilmember Kathy Lambert disagrees — she was the only nay vote on the board. She says the facilities give information based on public health documents accepted by the medical community.

“It boils down to the fact that they will not be encouraging or setting up abortions,” Lambert told KIRO Radio’s Tom and Curley. “If this were 1960 I would say ‘OK, that’s reasonable.’ But this is not 1960 and every woman knows what an abortion is or knows a woman who will tell her that. This is kind of arcane.

“There is a consortium of Planned Parenthood, NARAL and Legal Voice who have gone across the country and have decided that if the choice of abortion is not discussed, it is not fully disclosing all aspects,” she said.

Pregnancy center debate

According to a statement from NARAL, a pro-choice advocacy group:

These facilities lure pregnant women by promising medical care and counseling to discuss ‘pregnancy options.’ Once a woman is inside, they provide misinformation about the risks of abortion — often claiming, falsely — that abortions lead to cancer and suicide — and pressure her to carry her pregnancy to term.

NARAL also states that it conducted a “secret shopper” survey of pregnancy centers and found that women were asked intrusive questions about their spiritual beliefs, and only covered information about carrying pregnancies to term.

“These predatory fake clinics target vulnerable women seeking medical care and unbiased counseling with misinformation,” said Tiffany Hankins, Executive Director of NARAL Pro-Choice Washington. “We don’t allow people to call themselves doctors when they have no medical degree, and we shouldn’t allow anti-choice front groups to call themselves clinics when they offer no health care.”

On the other side of the issue are people like Kim Triller, Executive Director of Care Net Pregnancy and Family Services of Puget Sound. Care Net has two facilities in King County — Federal Way and Kenmore. It provides pregnancy testing, limited ultrasounds, STI testing, referrals to OB care, and referrals to case management for patients without medical coverage. At the health board meeting Thursday, Care Net staff argued that there have been no complaints waged by their clients, rather, just special interest groups. They said they are up front about what they do and do not offer.

Triller says the new rule will stigmatize her faith-based centers and create doubt about them. Triller believes the proposal is an attempt to put them out of business because they don’t perform abortions, like Planned Parenthood. She argues that it violates their religious freedom, and is compelled speech.

Lambert agrees and says the signs are an example of “using the government to bully people.”

“The faith-based ones are not going to discuss (abortion),” Lambert said. “So if you go to Catholic Social Services, or Bethany, or Care Net, you know you are going to a faith-based; they will still talk to you about that if you bring it up and want to. But that will not be the prime thing they will be doing and that makes groups of people want to reduce your choice on whom you seek medical information from.”

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