Proposed County Regulation Unfairly Targets Support for Women

December 01, 2009

The Archdiocese of Washington presented testimony before the Montgomery County Council on December 1 about a proposed regulation that would unfairly target pregnancy resource centers solely because of their pro-life mission.

The regulation would require centers that do “not provide or refer clients for abortions” or contraceptives to disclose to clients on first contact with them that they do not give medical advice and that the woman should consult another medical provider before making a decision about her pregnancy.

“These charities are there to offer women who are facing a crisis pregnancy an alternative to abortion and to provide them with the emotional and material support they need to have healthy pregnancies and babies,” said Mary McGinnity, Executive Director for the Department of Charity and Justice, Archdiocese of Washington, who testified.

“This proposed regulation is unnecessary. There have been no complaints filed against these centers with the county. In fact, this requirement could jeopardize their good work by imposing significant daily fines on them and opening them up to civil litigation,” she added.

The archdiocese and many of its parishes provide material and volunteer support to the four pregnancy centers located in Montgomery County.

“Far too often, women who are pregnant don’t know where to turn or what resources are available to help them carry their babies to term. These pregnancy centers offer free services, such as pregnancy tests, parenting classes, limited ultrasounds, and maternity and baby clothes, and they help connect women with all kinds of resources to ensure healthy pregnancies and healthy babies. We need to support women in need, not tell them, ‘sorry, go elsewhere,’” said Christa Lopiccolo, director of life issues for the Archdiocese of Washington.

Noting that the abortion rate in Maryland is nearly 40 percent higher than the national average, Lopiccolo added, “Clearly women in Maryland don’t need more abortions and they need fewer, not more barriers to pregnancy support. The regulation is being promoted by supporters of abortion who disagree with the mission of the centers.”

The proposed regulation is similar to a bill that was introduced in the Maryland General Assembly in 2008 and that was defeated in committee. Another similar bill recently was approved by the Baltimore City Council, though it has yet to become law.

Testimony of Mary C. McGinnity
Executive Director, Department for Charity and Justice, Archdiocese of Washington
On Board of Health Regulation Regarding Disclaimer for Certain Pregnancy Resource Centers
December 1, 2009

Members of the Montgomery County Council:

Good evening. I am Mary McGinnity, Executive Director for the Department for Charity and Justice and I offer this testimony on behalf of the Archdiocese of Washington which includes 38 parishes and missions and 36 schools serving over 11,600 students in Montgomery County, as well as numerous outreach programs. I come before you to express our strong opposition to the proposed pregnancy resource center regulation under your consideration, and to urge you to reject this proposed resolution.

The Archdiocese of Washington and the Montgomery County government have partnered many times over the years on programs to benefit our local communities. We have worked with many of you personally on these partnerships and are very grateful for your efforts. Programs such as Welcome Home Prison Outreach Ministry, Rosaria House, which recently opened to serve adults with disabilities, the Mercy Clinic, and Catholic Charities Social Services give witness to the great good that can be achieved when faith communities and other nonprofits work hand in hand with government to serve those most in need in our neighborhoods and cities.

Included among these valuable ministries is the life-affirming support provided through the county’s four pregnancy resource centers. These charities offer a helping hand to pregnant women in need by providing childbirth and parenting classes, infant and maternity clothes, formula, diapers, and help in accessing public and private assistance programs. Many of our local parishes support these centers with material and volunteer assistance, and – often in partnership with Montgomery County government agencies – refer women needing assistance to these centers.

The purpose of these centers is clear: they are there to offer women who are facing a crisis pregnancy a choice as an alternative to abortion and to provide them with the emotional and material support they need to have healthy pregnancies and babies. They are there to achieve a goal we would hope anyone could support: the goal of ensuring that no woman should feel compelled to choose abortion because she has no one to support her in choosing life for her child.

Sadly, the regulation under consideration by you today unnecessarily singles out and targets the good work of the pregnancy resource centers simply because of their pro-life mission; and it jeopardizes their strained resources by imposing on them significant daily fines – and potential civil litigation – if they do not comply with a compelled-speech requirement.

As you will hear from other witnesses, there is no credible evidence that women are being harmed by pregnancy resource centers and therefore no reason for this regulation. This regulation applies only to those organizations that do not “provide or refer clients for abortions” or contraception. Quite simply, the decision of a nonprofit, charitable organization, based on moral principles, not to offer or refer for abortion or contraception should not be considered a punishable activity. The regulation before you implies just this, and sets a dangerous precedent that even the staunchest supporters of “choice” should find unsettling.

What is patently clear is that this effort is being advanced by those who disagree with the mission of these charitable centers. This is evidenced by similar legislation introduced two years ago at the state level, as well as recently in Baltimore City.

This legislation would force centers at a first meeting to tell women they must seek other “medical” advice before “proceeding on a course of action regarding their pregnancy.” Women in crisis do not need to be sent to one more place. They need support. Pregnancy centers want women in need to have healthy pregnancies and healthy babies. Part of the care they already provide is connecting women with the resources they need to make this happen.

I respectfully urge you to reject this regulation. It imposes an unnecessary and unfair burden upon pregnancy resource centers. There is no justification for it in Montgomery County.

Susan Gibbs
Office of Communications
[email protected]