Seattle slaps new regulations on “crisis pregnancy centers”

Politics, News, Rights

Crisis pregnancy centers in King County, Washington (which includes the city of Seattle) are now required to post disclaimers that state, “Not a health care facility.” This regulation is intended to inform pregnant women that the centers, most of which are run by pro-life religious groups, are not medical facilities.

“When a woman walks in she should know, ‘I’m not in a clinic,’ says King County Board of Health member and Seattle City Council member Deborah Juarez.

One step away from closing their doors?

Board and council members insist that this new requirement will not close down the mostly faith-based facilities. On the contrary, the notice aims to ensure that women are not deceived. “These centers are unregulated and are often staffed by volunteers and employees who lack medical training or licensure,” says Rod Dembowski, board chair and King County Council member.

Employees of the centers, as well as the women who have visited them, are unhappy with the decision. One woman who frequented a crisis pregnancy center while expecting says she received an ultrasound and parenting classes at no cost, and that she was told about all options available to her, insisting that everyone knows where you can go if you want an abortion.

Pro-choice groups, however, applaud the signage decree. They have long requested more disclosure from the pregnancy centers, which are often accused of trying to discourage expectant mothers from getting an abortion through coercion or false information (such as making them think they are further along in their pregnancy than they really are, rendering abortion a less viable option).

Down to the letter

The regulations are unusually specific, going so far as to dictate font sizes (at least 11 x 17 inches), the number of languages that need to be represented (10, including English), and areas in which the signs need to be posted. Failure to post a sign in entryways or waiting areas so that it is readable could lead to fines of $100 a day.

Is the King County City Council infringing on the centers’ free speech rights? Dembowski says, after much consultation with and review of case law by attorneys, “I’m comfortable we’ve narrowly tailored the regulation to achieve a legitimate public health interest.”

So far, none of the centers have sued to stop the new regulations, but their objections during the debate process were passionate, to say the least. One supporter of the clinics even made reference to Nazi Germany, saying “that’s the same way a powerful government oppressed the Jewish population, by putting up signs.”

If the labeling trend continues in other parts of the country, the pressure to take the regulations to court will presumably grow stronger.