Valerie, a wife, mom and professional opera singer with a college degree in chemistry, has volunteered off and on with the EMC crisis pregnancy center in the Bronx. What she sees there breaks her heart. "So many of these young women, their entire lives circle around these boys who just use them," says Valerie. The center offers what abortion clinics cannot and do not provide: a strong voice for the value of choosing life, a shoulder to cry on, a helping hand. "I can't believe they are trying to shut that down," Valerie puzzles. "Love and hope and a chance for a new life."
Unlike abortion clinics, crisis pregnancy centers do not charge for their services, which include practical help getting prenatal care, financial aid, free pregnancy tests, abstinence education, and a lot of love for poor girls and young women who see too few alternatives in their own lives. "I remember one woman 19 years old," says Valerie. "She was sitting on the abortion table five months pregnant, and then she saw the instruments and she fled. A lot of these women really want the baby; something in them wants the baby."
Center workers are aware of an organized campaign by the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League (NARAL) to shut down alternative pregnancy centers. In the Bronx there are more than 20,000 abortions each year -- more abortions than live births. Why all these big guns directed at shutting down small, volunteer centers that help a few hundred mothers and babies each year? "You have the freedom to have your abortions," Valerie points out. "Why are you infringing on someone else's freedom to save lives?"
What about charges of coercion or intimidation at the centers? Valerie laughs. "We tell clients, anytime you want you can walk out the door. We didn't bring you in; you came in of your own volition and we think God brought you here."
But at a NARAL luncheon on Jan. 22, 1999, Elliot Spitzer made a political promise to crack down on so-called "false advertisements" in pregnancy services. Now, just three years later, New York's attorney general has subpoenaed every crisis pregnancy center in the state, regardless of whether that clinic has been the target of any specific complaints.
Of course, fraud or coercion would merit legal response. Perhaps Spitzer knows something we do not. But open up the Yellow Pages. All pregnancy centers are clearly labelled Abortion Alternatives. Abortion providers have their own listings ("Abortion to 24 weeks. Accepting Cash, Credit Cards, HIP, Medicaid, Insurance, HMOS," trumpets one, along with the ever helpful reminder, "Minors welcome.").
The effect of Spitzer's broad strong-arm legal tactics is obviously chilling. "The staff (especially the medical professionals) are very on edge and terrified," says Chris Slattery, founder and president of Expectant Mother Care (www.expectantmothercare.org), whose five crisis pregnancy centers are among those under attack.
At the 1999 NARAL luncheon, Spitzer intoned his goal was "a suitable framework for public debate in New York. I want to be clear that I am not attempting to curtail anyone's right to free speech, but I do intend to stop those who would use violence and intimidation to achieve their political goals."
No one, of course, accuses either the attorney general nor crisis pregnancy center workers such as Valerie of violence. But intimidation to achieve political goals? With all due respect, Mr. Attorney General, look in the mirror.