Albany County bill would ban misinfo from ‘crisis pregnancy centers’

— Photo from Google Street View
Alpha Pregnancy Care Center, on Clinton Avenue in the city of Albany, is one of dozens of facilities in the state known as crisis pregnancy centers, which, according to a 2022 study, frequently use misinformation to convince pregnant women not to get abortions.

ALBANY COUNTY — Amid the wider battle over reproductive rights across the country, Albany County legislators have proposed a bill that would attempt to bring greater clarity to women exploring their options after becoming pregnant.

The bill, which is sponsored by six legislators, including Dustin Reidy of Guilderland and Victoria Plotsky of New Scotland, targets “crisis pregnancy centers” and requires them to provide accurate information about reproductive matters and the nature of their facility. 

Such centers are not medically-accredited facilities but are often dressed up as legitimate health clinics, and use misinformation and obfuscation to stop pregnant people from getting abortions.

Cited in the bill is a 2022 study from researchers at Albany Medical Center who called every crisis pregnancy center in New York state, posing as potential clients, and found that only 14 percent were upfront about their lack of licensing, while only 42 percent admitted to it after direct questioning. And, of the 86 facilities contacted, 76 percent made “inaccurate or inflammatory statements about abortion.”

One such statement quoted in the study was a description of a surgical abortion procedure, with a staffer at an undisclosed crisis pregnancy center stating that, during an abortion, “a suction device is inserted into your vagina, and it’s 27 times stronger than a household vacuum. And then it rips your baby apart, limb by limb.”

In reality, the suction from vacuum aspiration devices is gentle, and the procedure is done early in the pregnancy, typically during the first trimester, according to the medical textbook General Gynecology

“These facilities attempt to convey the impression that they are medical clinics — often dressing staff in scrubs and lab coats and setting the centers up with ‘exam rooms’ with medical equipment, where staff perform ultrasounds — yet the facilities and their staff are exempt from the regulatory, licensure, credentialing and ethical oversight that applies to health care facilities and professionals, and are also not subject to rules related to informed consent, client confidentiality, or the privacy provisions of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA),” the bill says.

The county bill would therefore prohibit crisis pregnancy centers from providing medically inaccurate information either directly to patients or through advertising, while also requiring facilities to prominently post a notice stating that they are not medical facilities, that no licensed medical staff is consulting with the facility workers, and that abortion care and contraceptives are legal in the state of New York.

These prohibitions and requirements would be enforced through fines up to $5,000, and injunctive relief, such as publishing corrections of false information already disseminated.



Peter Breen, the executive vice president and head of litigation for the Thomas More Society, which represents the regional crisis pregnancy organization Alpha Care, told The Enterprise this week that the society is “currently analyzing the specifics of the law, and we intend to sue the County if the measure is enacted.”

The Thomas More Society, a conservative Catholic law firm based in Chicago, has fought abortion and same-sex marriage through lawsuits and also filed cases as part of Donald Trump’s attempts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election.

“The First Amendment prohibits governments from telling private individuals and organizations what they can or can’t say about controversial issues of public concern, including abortion,” he wrote to The Enterprise in an email. “Courts have repeatedly protected the rights of pro-life pregnancy resource organizations to freely advocate on the issue of abortion. 

“Posting requirements like the one in Local Law ‘D’ were squarely rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court in NIFLA v. Becerra, striking down a California posting requirement law. And we at Thomas More Society recently won a federal lawsuit against the State of Illinois, NIFLA v. Kwame Raoul, N.D. Ill., case no. 3:23-cv-50279, obtaining a permanent injunction against a state law with similar ‘false advertising’ language used in proposed Local Law ‘D.’”

Breen said there is “nothing wrong with what pregnancy resource organizations do or how they do it. The issue is that they threaten the profits of Planned Parenthood and other abortion clinics, and pro-abortion legislators disagree with their pro-life speech.”

Planned Parenthood is a not-for-profit organization that receives a majority (70 percent) of its revenue from government health-services grants and reimbursements, along with private donations, according to a United States Congressional Research Service report from 2017. Only 24 percent of its funding comes from health-services revenue, and patients are charged on a sliding scale based on their income. 

“Alpha staff and volunteers are from various faith traditions and serve women and children of all faiths, or no faith,” Breen wrote. “For over 30 years, Alpha has provided its free confidential services to pregnant women in need and their children across Albany County. And Alpha receives $0 in government funding, being wholly supported as a public charity by individuals, businesses, churches and other local organizations. 

“This attack on Alpha — a beloved and longtime member of the Albany County community — is an attack on those thousands of Albany County voters, businesses, churches, and organizations who help make Alpha’s charitable work possible.”

Guilderland Planning Board member Christopher Longo argues in a letter to the Enterprise editor this week that the bill is “aggressive overreach” that “proposes the restriction of free speech of a community-based organization helping women, men, and families navigate their way through crisis pregnancies.”

“If abortion is as freeing, liberating, and void of strings as the government and contemporary journals of science state, the argument should be won on its own merits, not by silencing an opposing viewpoint,” he wrote. “However, if it is not, then our communities desperately need places like Alpha, not only to help avoid despair, but also to help heal from past experiences.”

Bill sponsor Reidy responded to Longo’s assertions through The Enterprise by saying that the bill seeks to increase the amount of factual information around pregnancy, not reduce it. 

“This legislation does not seek to silence opposing viewpoints,” he wrote in an email. “It empowers individuals to make informed decisions about their reproductive health and to protect and support women’s reproductive health rights. By providing complete, comprehensive information we enable women to evaluate all their options.

“What matters most is that women make their own decisions when it comes to their reproductive health. And given the assault on reproductive health rights by the Republican party, we need to do everything we can to protect a woman’s right to choose.”

Reidy could not immediately be reached before publication to respond to Breen’s reaction to the bill. 


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