This post is by Elaine Rose, CEO of Planned Parenthood Votes! Washington.
You’re young, have little money, no health insurance, no doctor and you think you might be pregnant. You see a sign in front of what looks like a health center near your house that says: "Free Pregnancy Tests, Pregnancy Options Counseling." You make a plan to go as soon as you can. You’re thankful there’s a place so close by, and it seems like they wouldn’t mind that you don’t have insurance.
There are many women in Washington in just this situation. Women who are scared, have few resources, and are in need of help. Unfortunately, increasing numbers of women in desperate circumstances are walking into limited service pregnancy centers and are not getting what they bargained for.
Limited service pregnancy centers, also known as crisis pregnancy centers, offer pregnancy tests (often the kind you buy at the drugstore) and sometimes ultrasound imaging or sexually transmitted infection testing, but no other medical care. The centers are opposed to abortion, and do not offer referrals for abortion services. They also don’t provide information about birth control or access to it. Women go to these centers seeking medical care and unbiased counseling about their pregnancy options. Instead these centers, masquerading as health care providers, withhold women’s pregnancy test results, deny needed referrals and provide no guarantee that their medical privacy will be protected. There are at least 46 of these centers in Washington in 21 counties. A report released today by Legal Voice and Planned Parenthood details women’s experiences at these centers.
Our country and state have clear standards for health care providers and patient protection. Laws govern who can practice medicine, there are disciplinary committees for providers who do not meet standards of practice, and we have laws like HIPAA to protect patient privacy.
All of us, when we visit our doctor or a health center, assume we’ll receive real medical care, and that services will meet an acceptable standard. Usually this is true. But while limited service pregnancy centers may look like health centers, the standards we all depend on to protect our health, rights and privacy are not being met.
All women deserve to know what services are available when they walk into a place that appears to be a health care provider. This shouldn’t be a mystery for anyone—especially women who don’t have the time or money to keep searching for health care.
All women deserve to get pregnancy test results right away—regardless of what choice they make about their pregnancy. Imagine a woman who has a health condition that makes pregnancy dangerous—a diabetic, an epileptic or someone who has a lowered immune system. And imagine that woman being told to come back in two weeks for a pregnancy test result that is available in one minute. Nobody, especially a woman whose pregnancy is high-risk, should be delayed when seeking pregnancy or abortion care.
All women deserve to have their medical privacy protected. Consider a domestic violence victim whose abuser gets her pregnancy test results. Or a teen whose parents have promised to throw her out of the house if she gets pregnant? Right now there is nothing stopping limited service pregnancy centers from disclosing confidential health information which could put women’s safety at risk.
All women deserve privacy, fairness and honest information about their healthcare.
Today the legislature is considering HB 1366, The Limited Service Pregnancy Center Accountability Act.
The bill would: require limited service pregnancy centers to protect the privacy of health care information collected from persons seeking services; require the centers to provide pregnancy test results immediately; require a center to disclose that it does not provide services or referrals for abortion or comprehensive birth control, and that it does not provide medical care for pregnant women.
It’s time we hold limited service pregnancy centers accountable for women’s health and well-being.
House Bill 1366 is scheduled for a public hearing in the House Committee on Health Care & Wellness at 1:30pm this afternoon.