Bill could cause widespread shut-downs of crisis pregnancy centers

Georgene interviews Dr. Thomas Glessner, President of the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates, and the founder of the first Crisis Pregnancy Center in Seattle. Their legal organization, based in Washington D.C., provides services to Pregnancy Resource Centers all across the country. They discuss a piece of legislation in Washington State, HB1366, that targets the Pregnancy Resource Centers.

Georgene: Last year, you might recall, the Pregnancy Resource Centers in Washington faced legislation that meant to close them down. It was soundly defeated. However the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL), Pro-Choice America, Planned Parenthood, and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) have submitted another bill after changing the wording. Dr. Glessner, tell us what they have submitted in the legislation.

Dr. Glessner: The legislation they have introduced this year is the most dangerous bill I have yet seen. It is dangerous not only in what it says but because it appears it will pass. If it passes, it will be the death of Pregnancy Resource Centers in the state of Washington.

In the bill, they require Pregnancy Resource Centers post notices stating that they don’t refer for abortions and contraception, and that they don’t provide medical services. Even though, of the 57 centers in the state of Washington, over 30 do provide medical services, so the law will require them to lie about that fact. They must post this notice in at least five different languages by the entry door, on their website, and every brochure and piece of their advertising.

In addition, as the law is written it allows any aggrieved person to file a lawsuit against the Pregnancy Resource Center for not posting this notice. An aggrieved person is ordinarily defined as someone who can prove they have been damaged. In this bill, an aggrieved person can be someone who just is annoyed by you, doesn’t like you, or is a county or municipal government.

They can file for not only damages, but for their attorney fees and treble damages, which means they would receive triple the amount of damages that are proven. This is per person, so if NARAL sends four or five people into the center they could all file in the same complaint and all receive the triple damages along with a penalty fine assessed.

In other words, we can foresee every Pregnancy Resource Center in the State of Washington being sued under this law, even for a minor error of the font size being wrong or a word being misspelled in one of the languages. Every center would be burdened with defending these cases and judgments that could cause such a financial burden that they would be forced to shut down.

Georgene: How likely is it to be made law?

Dr. Glessner: Barring a miracle it will likely pass in the House. The House is 57 Democrats and 42 Republicans and some of the Republicans have even sponsored the bill. The Committee that will be hearing the bill is 7 Democrats and 3 Republicans.

Last year we beat it in the Senate, but this will be a long, protracted battle.

Georgene: Last year over 450 Washingtonians showed up at the hearings in opposition to the bill and Planned Parenthood had about 10. My guess is that they might be anticipating large numbers again this year and so they will do a better job of bringing their people out. How important is it for pro-life supporters to turn out in support of the Pregnancy Resource Centers at the hearing?

Dr. Glessner: I believe the reason we defeated the bill last year was because of the turnout. We intend to put together an excellent panel of professionals in the legal and medical profession as well as Directors from the Centers.

Georgene: The bill has been carefully crafted by the sponsors of the bill to look as though the Pregnancy Resource Centers are somehow deceptive, that their work is not all that they are claiming it to be and the truth here needs to prevail. The Pregnancy Resource Centers, who do not charge their clients, are doing a significant work for the pro-life community.

Dr. Glessner: We took a survey of all of the Centers in the State of Washington. They serviced over 61,000 clients and patients last year with pregnancy tests, social services, and ultrasounds at an estimated value of over $16 million. These are costs that the state will have to find some way to cover. It seems quite foolish during these tough economic times and with state budget cuts that they would attack charitable organizations who provide those services for free.

(side note: On Jan. 24, at the hearing of HB 1336, the room was packed with anti-abortion advocates. Both sides were given equal time to testify but opponents of the bill reportedly outnumbered proponents four to one.)

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