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Post date: February 28 2002

Spitzer Reaches Agreement With Upstate Crisis Pregnancy Center

Attorney General Spitzer today announced an agreement that will help clarify acceptable practices for organizations that counsel women on alternatives to abortion.

The agreement with Birthright of Victor New York, Inc. resolves concerns raised by Spitzer's office about misleading advertising and inappropriate medical counseling. The Ontario County facility was one of a number of crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) across the state where Spitzer's staff had identified possible problems.

In a related development, the Attorney General's office has begun settlement discussions with the counsel for several other CPCs. To foster these discussions, Spitzer said his office would withdraw the CPC subpoenas issued last month as part of the statewide investigation.

"For women seeking alternatives to abortion, CPCs can provide valuable services," Spitzer said. "It is imperative, however, that the staff and management of these facilities understand and adhere to the law regarding advertising and counseling."

"This agreement, which builds on previous consent decrees, sets forth a simple standard for CPCs. Its provisions are reasonable and fair and should benefit both CPCs and women seeking help."

"Using this solid settlement as a model, we hope to resolve outstanding issues regarding these centers," he said.

The Victor agreement is the first reached with a CPC since January, when the attorney general's office issued subpoenas to nine entities that operate such centers. A preliminary investigation raised concerns that the subpoenaed centers' advertising and business practices could lead women to believe that the centers provide medical services - including professional pregnancy testing - or that they provide abortions or referrals for abortion when in fact their goal is to persuade women not to consider abortion.

Under the agreement reached today, Birthright of Victor will address those concerns by:
  • Clearly informing persons who inquire about abortion or birth control that it does not provide those services or make referrals for them;
  • Disclosing verbally and in writing -- before providing a pregnancy test or counseling about pregnancy -- that the center is not a licensed medical provider qualified to diagnose or accurately date pregnancy, and informing women that only licensed medical providers can confirm pregnancy or provide medical advice about pregnancy;
  • Clarifying in advertising and consumer contacts that the pregnancy tests it provides are self-administered (i.e., over-the-counter tests); and
  • Telling persons who call or visit the center that it is not a medical facility.
The agreement is modeled closely on consent decrees obtained by two previous attorneys general in 1987 and 1995.

Spitzer commended Birthright of Victor for working with his office.

Although Birthright officials do not believe their past practices were deceptive, the management of the facility recognized the Attorney General's concerns and worked with the office to resolve them. "This agreement shows that our goals - to combat deceptive practices and to prevent unlicensed practice of medicine - are fully consistent with a center's exercise of its free speech right to try to persuade women not to seek abortion," Spitzer said.

CPCs operate in dozens of communities across the state. Unlike Planned Parenthood facilities and other medical providers, which are monitored closely by the State Health Department, CPCs are not regulated by the state. The previous consent decrees obtained by the Attorney General's office provide the general outline of how the centers should conduct their operations. Spitzer's settlement will help provide further clarification of those guidelines.

The case was handled by: Civil Rights Bureau Chief Andrew Celli; Consumer Protection Bureau Chief Thomas Conway; Reproductive Rights Unit Director Jennifer Brown; Civil Rights Deputy Bureau Chief Natalie Williams; and Assistant Attorneys General Hillary Weisman and Sabrina Comizzoli.