A national report, released last month, has rekindled a long-running dispute between local abortion providers and the so-called "crisis pregnancy care centers" that oppose abortion.
The report, "False and Misleading Health Information Provided by Federally Funded Pregnancy Resource Centers," was commissioned by Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA). It states that crisis pregnancy centers ... which are typically operated by pro-life groups ... often give clients inaccurate information about the alleged physical and psychological risks of abortion.
In the study, female investigators called 25 centers nationwide that received grants from the Compassion Capital Fund, a $30 million federal fund for faith-based initiatives. The investigators posed as pregnant 17-year-olds trying to decide if they wanted to have abortions.
The report found that nearly 9 out of 10 centers provided some form of misleading information about abortion. Eight centers, for example, told the investigators that an abortion would put them at increased risk for breast cancer. The Waxman report says medical evidence shows "no causal relationship between abortion and breast cancer," citing a 1997 study in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Local groups on opposite sides of the abortion debate, not surprisingly, disagree on the findings. Pro-choice Planned Parenthood of Western Pennsylvania lauds the report, saying the practices outlined in it are "coercive" and "misleading." Planned Parenthood issued a July 18 release charging that "Locally, many fake clinics purport to provide counseling but in fact promote an anti-abortion message." The report cited two local pro-life agencies ... Choices Pregnancy Care Centers, with offices in Moon and Coraopolis, and Pregnancy Care Centers of Pittsburgh ... as "fake clinics" that provide misinformation.
Pregnancy Care Centers did not respond to calls for comment. But Choices Executive Director Keri Muir contends that Waxman's report is inaccurate election-year political posturing, and says her organization receives no federal funding.
Still, the Choices Web site claims "Medical experts are still researching and debating the linkage between abortion and breast cancer." Both the site and Muir cite a 1994 National Cancer Institute study, contending that an abortion increases a woman's risk for breast cancer by 50 percent.
"Our feeling is that if there is even a chance [of a link], aren't women entitled to be informed?" Muir says.
Choices provides pregnancy testing and ultrasound, and makes referrals to adoption agencies ... all offered free, Muir says. They are opposed to abortion, she says. "When women are fully informed, nine out of ten times she will choose life for her baby."
Planned Parenthood offers those options, in addition to direct medical care such as Pap smears and contraception, and abortions, at sliding fee scales.
Both local crisis pregnancy care centers' Web sites refer to "post-abortion syndrome," a condition not recognized by the American Psychological Association or the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. The sites describe the so-called ailment as being characterized by feelings of guilt, depression, anxiety, sexual dysfunction and substance abuse that are brought on by the trauma of having an abortion. The Waxman report decries the syndrome as entirely false.
"Any time women aren't getting the full range of information, it's a problem," says Betsy Magley, Planned Parenthood spokesperson.