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City Council, Pro-Choice Group Take Aim at Anti-Abortion Clinics

By DNAinfo Staff on October 12, 2010 7:41pm  | Updated on October 12, 2010 4:56pm

By Jill Colvin

DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

CITY HALL — Anti-abortion clinics across the city are masquerading as full-service reproductive health centers and providing women with false information, a new report by a leading pro-choice group claims.

The report, released Tuesday by the NARAL Pro-Choice New York Foundation at a press conference at City Hall, has prompted Upper East Side City Councilwoman Jessica Lappin to introduce legislation at Wednesday's City Council meeting that would force the centers to disclose more information about the services they provide.

The NARAL report focuses on "crisis pregnancy centers," which advertise "free abortion alternatives" in subways throughout the city. The centers provide women with free pregnancy tests and other services, but are also staunchly pro-life, urging their clients not to seek abortions, the report charges.

The group's investigation into 16 of the centers, including five in Manhattan, reports widespread use of what NARAL describe as "disturbing tactics" that the group claims are "designed to mislead or misinform women seeking pregnancy related services."

EMC FrontLine Pregnancy Centers founder and president Christopher Slattery, who runs 12 of the centers cited in the study and attended the press conference, adamently refuted the accusations as false.

According to the NARAL report, about 75 percent of centers studied fail to say they are pro-life online, while another 40 percent present themselves as neutral, making it impossible for women to tell they have a pro-life agenda.

Furthermore, nearly all of the centers studied provided women with false or misleading information about contraception and abortions, the group claims, including "vastly overstating" the failure rate of condoms and claiming a link between abortion and breast cancer, NARAL president Kelli Conlin said.

"When a woman walks into a facility representing itself as a source of medically accurate, unbiased reproductive health counseling, she has a right to expect and actually receive comprehensive medical case," Conlin told reporters.

"Unfortunately, all too often, when women enter crisis pregnancy centers, those expectations are not met."

Slattery blasted the group and its allegations.

"This is an outrageous attack on the First Amendment rights of law-abiding, helpful resource centers," Slattery said at the press conference, accusing the City Council of pandering to "special interests" three weeks before Election Day.

Slattery acknowledged that his staff works tirelessly to encourage women not to abort. But he insisted that all information provided at his centers is supported by science and "absolute truth."

In response to charges that his centers mislead women about their mission, Slattery said his ads are clear.

"We run advertising that claims we're offering free abortion alternatives. Alternatives. What does the word alternatives mean?" he said.

"A woman who can't find an abortion clinic without our help really deserves a medical checkup," he added.

Under the proposed City Council measure, the centers will have to disclose on signs in their waiting rooms, on their websites and in their ads that they have no medical staff on hand and do not offer abortions or birth control

The legislation also requires the clinics to keep patients' information confidential, which they are not currently required to do.

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn that said the legislation will ensure that women are not "manipulated by people who have a clear agenda."

To become law, the bill must be approved by the full Council and then signed by the mayor following two public hearings.

If passed, Slattery said he would sue.