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New York is looking into whether pregnancy resource centers steer women away from abortions 

click to enlarge The interior of Focus Pregnancy Help Center features an abundance of religious paraphernalia.

PHOTO BY JACOB WALSH

The interior of Focus Pregnancy Help Center features an abundance of religious paraphernalia.

The state will study whether pregnancy resource centers use coercive tactics to convince women not to have abortions under legislation signed Monday by Gov. Kathy Hochul.

Pregnancy resource centers, also known as crisis pregnancy centers or limited-service pregnancy centers, are typically religious facilities. Rochester is home to several, including CompassCare, Caring Choices, and Focus Pregnancy Center. Some offer no medical treatment beyond over the counter pregnancy tests, while others offer ultrasounds and a controversial “abortion pill reversal.”

The law will allow the state Commissioner of Health to begin a study to determine if the facilities impair “the ability of women to obtain accurate, non-coercive health care information and timely access to a comprehensive range of reproductive and sexual health care services.”

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Samra Brouk and Assemblymember Sarah Clark, was signed as part of a package of legislation meant to bolster state laws protecting women’s access to abortions. Other legislation in the package would bar medical malpractice insurers from taking action against legal abortion providers and establish protections for doctors who perform abortions on patients who came to New York from out of state.

New York lawmakers in 2019 passed the Reproductive Health Act, which legally guarantees a woman’s ability to get an abortion through 24 weeks of pregnancy.

“Reproductive rights are human rights, and today we are signing landmark legislation to further protect them and all who wish to access them in New York State,” Hochul said in a statement. “The women of New York will never be subjected to government mandated pregnancies. Not here. Not now. Not ever.”

In an article published last month, CITY illustrated the operations of one local pregnancy resource center. Focus Pregnancy Center provided donations of clothes, food, and toiletries to expecting mothers, but it also offered dozens of pieces of literature, DVDs, and CDs promoting medically inaccurate information, conspiracy theories, religious dogma, and abstinence.

Many of the facilities, including Focus, are affiliated with Catholicism. Kristen Curran, director of government affairs for the New York State Catholic Conference, spoke out against the study.

“As a state that claims to value autonomy and choice, New York should stop presenting abortion as the best and only option for struggling women, and harassing any pro-life pregnancy center that may help women keep their babies,” read Curran’s statement. “This abortion-or-nothing narrative only demeans women.”

The newly-signed legislation directs the state health commissioner to convene a nine-person panel to oversee the study, which will evaluate data related to pregnancy resource centers as well as the facilities’ tactics. Officials expect the study to take no more than 18 months.

At the end of the study, the commissioner will submit a full report, including policy recommendations, to the governor and legislature.

Gino Fanelli is a CITY staff writer. He can be reached at (585) 775-9692 or gino@rochester-citynews.com.
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