A church-supported organization opposed to abortion is opening a Chesterfield County pregnancy center that will provide free testing and other services to pregnant women.
The center’s goal is to help parents “make good life choices,” said Elizabeth Thornton, who is on the board of the Pregnancy Help Center of Chesterfield, located on Osborne Road. “We don’t tell them what choices to make. We don’t tell them what to do. We’re excited to provide a service to the community.”
In response to a question about whether the center would refer women to abortion clinics, Thornton said no.
Elsewhere in Virginia and the nation, pregnancy centers opened by anti-abortion groups have drawn harsh criticism from abortion rights advocates. They say that an investigation of such centers has demonstrated that they misinform and pressure women to keep them from ending their pregnancies.
The new Chesterfield pregnancy center was not part of that study.
The facility, which has planned its official opening for Dec. 1, will offer various services to pregnant women, including parenting classes and pregnancy testing, according to Thornton.
The tests will be provided free of charge, and Thornton says the facility hopes to offer free ultrasounds to its clients by this time next year.
But the center is not a medical facility, Thornton said. “We’re not going to be a doctor’s office,” she said.
In 2010, State Sen. Ralph Northam, D-Norfolk, sponsored a bill that would require “limited service pregnancy centers” to post signs on their doors, acknowledging that they are not health care facilities and do not perform or refer women for abortions or contraception.
The bill also would have required centers to point out that they are not required to maintain medical confidentiality in accordance with The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.
Rejected on a 14-0 vote, the bill never got out of the Education and Health Committee.
“It’s just a tactic by the industry to keep women from going to these places,” said Chris Freund, vice-president of the Virginia anti-abortion lobby Family Foundation. He said that the reaction to the bill shows how powerful public reaction is against regulating pregnancy centers.
He said most are “started by people that are pro-life. I know that [most centers] don’t refer for abortions. Their goal is to help the woman through the full term of the pregnancy.”
For example, he said, the centers often ask clients to consider adoption or other alternatives to abortion.
“It’s a different option for women to be able to choose,” Freund said. “The people that are critics of [centers] are people in the abortion business.”
Abortion rights advocates say that pregnancy centers elsewhere in Virginia and the nation are focused on preventing abortions.
“Sometimes they call themselves crisis pregnancy centers, or pregnancy resource centers,” said Tarina Keene, the Alexandria-based executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia.
“They really are there to make sure they keep their baby. … They mislead young women with information that’s blatantly false.”
Keene, whose organization in 2009 undertook a study of what it describes as anti-abortion pregnancy centers, said there are 56 such facilities in Virginia and more than 4,000 in the country.
Keene said that the centers misinformed pregnant women, telling them that abortions cause depression, and breast and cervical cancer. She said that the centers try to discourage women from choosing abortions by telling them that they are further along in their pregnancies than they are.
“We found that 67 percent of them gave out false or misleading information,” Keene said. She added that centers offering minor medical procedures are not bound by HIPAA, which helps ensure the privacy of health records.
According to David Roman, spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, facilities are only required to comply with HIPAA if they “conduct certain financial and administrative transactions electronically.”
Examples would include emailing a health plan or former doctor for patient information, or electronically billing or receiving payment reimbursement from a source.
In September the abortion issue made state headlines when the Board of Health voted on new abortion clinic regulations, effectively regulating them as hospital surgical centers. The new regulations, which will take effect on Jan. 1, 2012, will require many facilities to expand the width of their hallways and operating rooms. They will also be required to allow unannounced inspections of their facilities.
Funded by churches and individual donors, the Chesterfield center is currently all volunteer, though Thornton says they are working toward having a paid staff.
“We just exist to help Moms have different options,” Thornton said. “We believe in arming patients with factual knowledge.”
Letter to the Editor of The Chesterfield Observer by Elaine Hanger
Women who find themselves in a crisis pregnancy will be glad to have the resources that will soon be available with the opening of the Pregnancy Help Center of Chesterfield. Last week’s article listed a litany of bogus charges by a pro-abortion advocate representing the National Abortion Action League. To address these charges, I think it is most revealing to note the differences in pregnancy resource centers and pro-abortion organizations such as NARAL and Planned Parenthood.
Chairman-Legislative Committee, Virginia Christian Action, Chesterfield, VA