By Mo Schweiger
A controversial town council meeting took place in Easthampton on July 6e to discuss the proposed order: Misleading Advertising Practices of Limited Service Pregnancy Centers. The ordinance defines a limited-service pregnancy center as a “pregnancy service center that does not directly provide or provide referral for abortions or emergency contraception” and prohibits them from engaging in anything the ordinance calls “misleading advertising”. The penalty for violating this order is a fine of $300, to be enforced by the health department.
A mix of Easthampton residents and residents of nearby towns filled the room and filled a Zoom screen during Wednesday’s meeting. Emotions ran high on both sides of the aisle, as passionate members of the community tried to convince both the Council and the assembled participants of their position on the ordinance.
This order was developed in response to the growing number of Crisis Pregnancy Centers (CPCs) in the United States. “CPCs outnumber fertility clinics. We must ensure that the journey of consumers, clients and patients into reproductive care is not impeded by CPCs,” proclaims Easthampton City Council member Owen Zaret, who sponsored the ordinance, in a statement. interview with the Shoestring.
CPCs were developed in the United States in the late 1960s and early 1970s, according to Carrie Baker, a Smith College Study of Women and Gender professor, lawyer, and frequent Ms. Magazine contributor. Baker explained that CPCs present themselves as reproductive health clinics staffed by doctors but, in reality, do so to lure vulnerable people into their facilities in order to spread misinformation about the medical consequences of abortion and attempt to dissuade you from buying one. Some common tactics, according to Baker, include telling patients that abortion causes breast cancer, infertility and depression, all of which have been debunked by the American Cancer Society and the World Health Organization.
Additionally, many CPCs offer what they call “abortion pill reversal,” which involves administering progesterone after taking mifepristone, the first of a two-drug regiment for medical abortions. “They invented this practice. The only study done on this was stopped because people were hemorrhaging, and it was not considered ethical,” Baker said in reference to a narcotic trimester people in “abortion pill reversal” clinical trials with severe bleeding.
Most CPCs do not have trained medical staff. While many are small and run by volunteer groups (largely evangelical Christians), others are much larger and publicly funded. A study by Equity Forward found that 13 states provide public funding to CPCs, while 10 have diverted TANF (temporary assistance to needy families) funds to CPCs.
According to Zaret, this order relates only to “truth in advertising and consumer protection”. “It’s not about arguing Roe against Wade. It’s not about recommending abortion or deterring abortion. It’s just about making sure people are clear about what services they’re getting when ‘they go to a clinic,’ Zaret told the Shoestring.
That sentiment was not reflected at Wednesday’s town meeting, where one attendee had to be physically kicked out of the hall for refusing to stop shouting. On both sides of the issue, community members used it as an outlet for their feelings about the recent Roe v Wade overthrow and abortion in general. “The Supreme Court has just struck down a constitutional right for the first time in the history of this country. Me and others like me are pissed,” said Baker, who strongly supports the order. Those opposed to the ordinance used the meeting as an opportunity to voice their beliefs about the abhorrence of abortion. “If you kill a baby, he doesn’t have life, liberty or the pursuit of happiness,” said an anonymous participant. “The conversation drifted away from the merits of the order, which I found frustrating,” Councilman Zaret said of the conversation that unfolded Wednesday night.
Throughout the meeting, participants opposed to the ordinance spoke out in favor of the Bethlehem House organization in Easthampton. Bethlehem House is a religiously affiliated nonprofit that, according to its website, works with “local churches, hospitals, and birthing centers to provide many services, including gifts of baby supplies and other products. first need”. “I would like to commend the city council for supporting the police department because it means you support safety and life in this city. I would like to commend you for supporting the fire department because they also support safety and life in this city. I hope you rescind this order or not consider it because Bethlehem House also provides support, life and safety,” Chicopee resident Ted Tudren remarked during the meeting, several other attendees making similar statements about the danger they thought this order posed. House of Bethlehem at.
“When this order was introduced, I had no idea Bethlahem House existed,” Councilor Zaret said in response to claims the order was created to target them. Zaret argues that Bethlehem House would explicitly not be affected by this order, as they appear to be operating in accordance with their message. “It was as if they were self-victimizing and martyring themselves [at the meeting]. I don’t know why, they could probably be a really good partner. They have the ability to defend that order to make sure people aren’t being misdirected and tell people what services they are able to provide,” says Zaret. Bethlehem House declined to comment on the matter.
The ordinance, which was co-sponsored by Councilors Salem Derby and Koni Denham, has been referred to Easthampton City Council’s Ordinances Committee for reassessment, after which a vote will be taken on it.
“[Regulating CPCs] is the next frontier of reproductive justice,” Councilor Zaret stressed, encouraging concerned citizens to contact their local councilor or alderman if they live outside of Easthampton to advocate for the passage of this ordinance so to curb “the accelerating erosion of reproductive rights in this country.”
Mo Schweiger is a writer, barista, and pop culture lover living in Amherst with their beloved housemates. Will Meyer contributed reporting.
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