The bill requires pregnancy help centers to display signs saying they do not provide abortions or contraceptives or make referrals for the services. The law is believed to be the first of its kind in an American city.
The measure would levy a fine of $150 a day for any pregnancy center that does not abide by the requirement.
Opponents criticized the proposal as inconsistent because it does not require abortion clinics to post signs indicating what services they do not provide. Many pro-life pregnancy help centers provide such free services as pregnancy tests, ultrasound exams, prenatal care, childbirth classes, testing for sexually transmitted diseases, abstinence education, post-abortion counseling and material assistance. Abortion clinics typically do not provide many of these services.
Care Net President Melinda Delahoyde described the new law as "unconstitutional because it discriminates against pregnancy centers solely because of their pro-life viewpoint."
"It is nonsensical for the Baltimore City Council to undermine local efforts to provide free support to pregnant women in this city, but that's exactly what they've accomplished with this legislation," Delahoyde said in a written statement.
With the economy faltering, "wouldn't it make more sense for the Baltimore City Council to pass a resolution praising the contribution of pregnancy centers, which rely solely on charitable contributions, not on state or local funding?" Delahoyde asked.
"Sadly, this bill sends a message to city residents that local pregnancy centers may not be completely forthcoming about their services," she said. "This couldn't be further from the truth and is an affront to women who rely on their support."
Care Net supports a network of more than 1,100 pregnancy centers, including its inaugural center, the Greater Baltimore Center for Pregnancy Concerns.
The city council approved the measure in a 12-3 vote Nov. 23. It defeated an amendment to expand similar requirements to abortion clinics in a 10-5 vote at its Nov. 16 meeting, according to The Catholic Review, the Baltimore Archdiocese's newspaper. Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon signed the bill Dec. 4, three days after she was found guilty of embezzling about $500 in gift cards intended for charity.
Delahoyde said Dixon's signature of the bill is yet another slap at charitable initiatives.
"It's particularly alarming when abortions are decreasing nationwide, but increasing in the state of Maryland," Delahoyde said, citing statistics by the pro-abortion Guttmacher Institute of 19.4 abortions per 1,000 women of reproductive age in 2005, compared to 31.5 per 1,000 women in Maryland.
"Pregnancy centers help to reduce abortions by providing free, compassionate support and practical help to women facing unplanned pregnancies. For nearly 30 years, the first center Care Net opened, the Greater Baltimore Center for Pregnancy Concerns, has been faithfully serving the women of Baltimore," Delahoyde said.
"In this economy, and with abortion on the rise, wouldn't it make more sense for the Baltimore City Council to pass a resolution praising the contribution of pregnancy centers, which rely solely on charitable contributions, not on state or local funding?" she asked.
Delahoyde also said the city council and Dixon supported the bill to please Planned Parenthood and NARAL, the pro-abortion advocacy groups that advocated for the measure to hurt pregnancy centers.
"Not one client has ever complained about their experience there. So, why was the bill introduced, other than to satisfy the demands of an abortion lobbying group?" Delahoyde asked.
Syndicated columnist Star Parker, recounting the experience of a young woman named Ebony with the Greater Baltimore Center for Pregnancy Concerns, wrote in a Dec. 7 column: "When she became pregnant as a single unmarried woman, her immediate impulse was to abort. She called a local clinic and was able to schedule an abortion with a phone call. When in the conversation she questioned her ability to pay, she was encouraged to proceed because aborting would be 'cheaper' than having the child.
"Although she remained set on the abortion, Ebony knew something was wrong. Sitting up late at night, she called a Christian radio show to talk. They referred her to the crisis pregnancy center. There she was told if she did decide to abort, 'They would still help her.' And then she saw her baby on a sonogram and it was all over. Her son is now almost four. Ebony received help with clothes, food, and counseling. She struggles today but wouldn't have it any other way."
Parker predicted similar measures against pregnancy help centers will be sought in other cities, noting that the abortion industry is stepping up its attacks for three reasons: 1) the downturn in the economy is decreasing profits from abortion; 2) the nation's view of abortion is changing, with a recent Gallup Poll noting for the first time that a majority of Americans (51 percent) are pro-life; and 3) pregnancy help centers have "emerged as enormously successful competition to abortion clinics, providing in-need pregnant women information, support and infrastructure to enable them to keep and give birth to their babies."
Compiled by Baptist Press Washington bureau chief Tom Strode and BP editor Art Toalston.
Copyright (c) 2009 Southern Baptist Convention, Baptist Press www.BPNews.net