New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer is retreating -- slightly -- from his stealth attack on pro-life crisis pregnancy centers.
According to The Buffalo (N.Y.) News this week, Spitzer has softened his stance on pursuing criminal prosecution of the centers. His conciliatory spokesman Darren Dopp is now telling reporters that pro-life counselors "do good work."
This small victory is no thanks to prominent Republican politicians or religious figures in the Big Apple. While South Carolina's attorney general, Buffalo's Catholic bishop, 57 members of Congress, and even schoolchildren in Missouri have all taken action against government bullying of crisis pregnancy centers, local public officials remain AWOL.
As I reported in my column two weeks ago, Spitzer launched a secret investigation in early January targeting pro-life counseling clinics that offer abortion alternatives. Most are non-profit and faith-based, offering services ranging from giving away free pregnancy tests and baby clothes, to providing pre-natal care, nutritional programs, free ultrasound, adoption assistance and parenting classes. Spitzer, echoing the agenda of the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League (NARAL), believes that such centers are "deceptive" and mislead clients. But all of these clinics, as required by law, make clear in their advertising that they do not provide abortions or abortion referrals. Volunteers offer emotional and spiritual support to women no matter what they choose.
Spitzer's crackdown began in New York City; a total of 24 pro-life clinics statewide have now been served subpoenas demanding business documents, including volunteer lists, a list of people to whom clients are referred and lists of names of people "to which your telephone calls are routed." Spitzer's office now admits that several of the targets have never had specific complaints lodged against them, but that investigators are pursuing "suggestions of a problem."
This fishing expedition by Spitzer's "reproductive rights unit" is an obvious attempt to drain the centers of their private funding and to scare the centers' staffs -- made up mostly of housewives, retirees, teachers and nurses. Spitzer himself refuses to comment publicly on his taxpayer-funded litigation campaign. What about other public officials?
Liberal, pro-choice Republicans such as New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg and Gov. George Pataki are sitting on the sidelines. Edward Cardinal Egan of the Archdiocese of New York did not return a call seeking comment.
But South Carolina Attorney General Charlie Condon immediately rose to defend the centers when word of Spitzer's assault spread in the grass-roots pro-life community. "Those who operate the centers freely give of themselves with a helping hand and a loving heart," Condon wrote in a letter to Spitzer asking him to drop the investigation. "Every child born into this world is a blessing. Crisis pregnancy centers help produce scores of these blessings every day by protecting and preserving life."
Buffalo's Bishop Henry Mansell also weighed in during a recent homily before hundreds of worshipers. He voiced his concern that Spitzer's legal maneuvering was part of a national campaign "to intimidate and to harass people who are in crisis pregnancy centers." And he spotlighted the government's double standard in letting abortion providers off the hook for deceptive tactics to lure women. (Spitzer, a NARAL-backed Democrat running for re-election, has no plans to fish around Planned Parenthood's business documents searching for evidence of fraud or misrepresentation.)
In Congress, Rep. Bob Schaffer, R-Colo., has authored a resolution supporting the tens of thousands of crisis pregnancy volunteers who offer women a compassionate choice. The resolution has 56 co-sponsors. Only one, Republican Felix Grucci, is from New York.
Politicians who claim to support compassionate conservatism should take a cue from the children in Mrs. Sue Shelley's seventh-grade class at All Saints School in St. Peters, Mo. When they read about Spitzer's assault, they didn't hesitate to speak out -- and take action. They wrote passionate letters defending crisis pregnancy centers and launched a classroom penny drive to raise funds for Our Lady's Inn, a home for unwed expectant mothers, near their school. The students have gathered $25 so far.
That's a gold mine compared to the non-existent tokens of support for life offered by New York's own leaders.