Over the last several years, Pregnancy Resource Centers and Medical Clinics (PRCs) have faced intense efforts by the abortion industry — led by Planned Parenthood (PP) and NARAL — to pass restrictive legislation that would severely restrict operations and close down some PRCs.
Recent battles PRCs have fought to protect and defend their ministries in different state legislatures have been as follows:
2007 — Oregon
2008 — Maryland
2009-2011 — Virginia, Washington, New Mexico, Baltimore City, Montgomery County, Maryland, and New York City
We have successfully defeated the legislative efforts in the state legislatures, but the municipalities of Baltimore, New York, Austin, and Montgomery County have all passed ordinances that would harm PRC operations. However, recent federal court decisions have found the ordinances in Baltimore and Montgomery County to be unconstitutional and, based upon these court decisions, legal actions are now being undertaken to challenge the Austin and New York City ordinances.
The PRC movement is experiencing a great deal of success in defeating state legislative efforts. Earlier this year, very hostile legislation was introduced in the state of Washington for the second year in a row. The political climate in Washington State is such that this bill had a very good chance of passing the legislature and being signed into law by the governor, a Planned Parenthood supporter. However, the PRCs of the state responded with an intense lobbying effort that paid off with the bill not coming to a vote in either the House of Representatives or the Senate. NIFLA remains committed to providing legal counsel and help to PRCs who face these attacks.
PP and NARAL Make Another Unsuccessful Attempt in Oregon
Harmful legislation was first attempted by PP and NARAL in Oregon in 2007. An intense lobbying effort at that time by NIFLA and the Oregon state PRCs defeated the bills. However, the abortion industry (i.e., PP and NARAL) did not give up, and this year they again launched a serious legislative attack to cripple the work of Oregon PRCs.
In April the Oregon Legislature introduced and attempted to pass SB 769 and HB 3425, bills sponsored by PP and NARAL. Such bills, if enacted into law, would have placed serious obstacles in the operations of PRCs and, through the issuance of heavy fines for noncompliance, would have eventually forced many PRCs to close.
SB 769 / HB 3425 targeted pro-life PRCs and would have required them to post disclaimers about services they do not provide — birth control, abortions, referrals for abortion, etc. These disclaimers would have to be posted at all areas of the PRC where a client/patient would be — such as the waiting room, the restroom, or the counseling room. The notices would have to be posted on all advertising and websites of the PRC. Further, the notices would have to be posted on all websites and advertisements of any "person" involved with the PRC. (Query: Would a pastor who is a board member of a PRC have to post such a notice in his church bulletin, on the church website, and in any advertisement promoting him as a speaker at a church conference?)
The passage of this proposed law would have meant that for the first time in Oregon's history an organization would be compelled under penalty of law to tell people what services they do not provide. However, while the bill speaks in generalities, the determination of the specifics of the law delegated a bureaucracy — the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) — to issue rules, regulations, and to punish PRCs for noncompliance. The OHA is a board of nine appointed by the governor of the state. The current Oregon governor is pro-abortion, is supported by PP and NARAL, and his appointments reflect this commitment to abortion.
Under the bills, authority is given to OHA to set rules, investigate compliance, and enforce these rules by attaching strict civil penalties for noncompliance. The bills would have increased state costs through OHA extending resources for compliance such as time for investigations. Such costs would occur in the face of state budget deficits with no demonstration that the bill addresses any harm to Oregon citizens. In addition, the investigations from OHA would be undertaken to investigate the speech and not the conduct of Oregon PRCs.
SB 769 / HB 3425 would also have required that physicians and other medical professionals who currently volunteer at PRCs be paid for their services. This denies them the right to voluntarily provide medical services in their communities. Further, since medical personnel at PRCs provide their professional services voluntarily without pay, such provisions would have required PRCs to pay compensation to healthcare professionals or forego their services. Practically speaking, most PRCs would not be able to afford this and, thus, would have to close down their medical operations.
The penalties set forth in the bills for noncompliance are harsh. The bills read:
(a) If the person fails to cure the violation within five days of the date of the notice, the Oregon Health Authority shall impose a civil penalty of at least $250 and not more than $1,000.
(b) If the violation continues for more than one week after the five-day curing period expires, the authority may impose an additional civil penalty of up to $5,000 for the second week of violation.
(c) If the violation continues for more than two weeks after the five-day curing period expires, the authority may impose additional civil penalties of up to $10,000 for the third and each subsequent week during which the violation continues.
YOU MUST BUILD GOOD RELATIONSHIPS WITH YOUR LEGISLATORS
These bills were set on a fast track for passage in the legislature with hearings scheduled in early April in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. NIFLA worked with our Oregon member PRCs to help prepare for the hearings and to lobby both legislators and the public to inform them of the nature of this bill. NIFLA set up a website to provide information for the public about this bill and to encourage citizens to call their legislators to express opposition to passage.
As they did in 2007, Oregon PRCs met the challenge head on and courageously mounted an intense lobbying effort that ended with the state House refusing to hold a hearing on the bill. This effectively killed the bill for the current session. PRC supporters attended and testified at the hearing on April 6, 2011, and their supporters flooded the legislators with letters and calls in opposition to the bills. These efforts paid off, and David beat Goliath again!
The lesson for PRCs across the nation from this battle and from the others that we have recently fought is:
You must build good relationships with your legislators — even those who claim to be "pro-choice" — so that they know of your good work and the value you provide to your community.
This ongoing effort to introduce your legislator to your ministry must begin now and continue as a permanent part of your ministry before a bill is proposed so that your legislators have a relationship with you and know of your positive impact to your state. This is a key element in defeating these types of bills.
To help you in this regard, the national PRC organizations have created A Pro-Active Strategy to Defend Your Pregnancy Center Against Legislative Attacks. Copies can be obtained by contacting NIFLA, Heartbeat, or Care Net.
NIFLA encourages you to print this document and pass along to your board members for discussion at your next board meeting and for implementation of a strategy to make permanent friends of your state legislators.
Thomas A. Glessner is President of NIFLA (www.nifla.org) and can be contacted at 540-372-3930 or NIFLA@aol.com.