A debate is raging as to whether there is sinister intent in proposed Baltimore City legislation requiring crisis pregnancy centers to be clear on the services they provide prospective clients. As physicians and public health professionals who live and work in Baltimore, we are surprised by the debate and troubled that there are those who would advocate for less than full transparency.
In 1979, the United Nations adopted a resolution that recognizes the right of all women to "specific educational information to help to ensure the health and well-being of families, including information and advice on family planning," as well as "access to adequate health care facilities, including information, counseling and services on family planning."
The evidence is crystal clear that family planning is one of the best - and perhaps the very best - strategy for women in the United States and across the world to improve their health and well-being, as well as that of their offspring.
With the ability to plan for childbirth, women's health improves and their newborn children get the love and attention essential for healthy development. Women who can plan the number and timing of their births experience fewer unwanted pregnancies and births and have lower rates of abortion. In addition, women who control their fertility are more likely to stay in school and get jobs after childbirth, enhancing the opportunities for their children and themselves.
The evidence strongly indicates that crisis pregnancy centers do not ascribe to anything that remotely resembles a full range of service options for women, nor do they believe in the right of women to control their own fertility. That is a problem, and that is why City Council President Stephanie C. Rawlings-Blake's bill asks for signage only in crisis pregnancy centers. Sadly, these centers withhold information women have the legal right to access. And by discouraging the use of contraception, they espouse beliefs that are not supported by science or public health practice.
Surely providing misinformation is not the "common ground" that Archbishop Edwin F. O'Brien said in a recent Sun op-ed that he seeks. True common ground would be working together to prevent unintended pregnancies and the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. A good first step is to make sure that women have scientifically accurate information upon which to base their family planning decisions.
The evidence is clear that access to affordable contraception is a sound public health practice that prevents unintended pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases and abortions. And it is equally clear that the provision of contraception does not encourage promiscuity. By refusing to even refer women for contraception, crisis pregnancy centers are delivering services based on moral precepts and not on science. Women in Baltimore deserve science-based health care and should have the right to make their own moral decisions. To use subterfuge, especially at a time when women are in crisis, is immoral.
Baltimore's rates of STD infection, HIV and unplanned pregnancy are too high to tell women that condoms don't prevent STDs or that birth control is dangerous. Such messages contribute to the public health crisis we face. This is not about providing maternity clothes and infant formula, services the crisis pregnancy centers do offer. This is about protecting the health and well-being of two generations.
This legislation provides women with key information they need to make decisions about where to go for care. Women with crisis pregnancies need compassionate care, accurate information and, above all else, timely access to medical professionals whose practice is based on science and public health research.
When the council takes a final vote on this legislation next week, we hope that they will consider the issue that is most paramount: the well being of Baltimore women and their ability to access comprehensive, unbiased reproductive health care.
Dr. Eva M. Moore is a fellow in adolescent medicine in the Johns Hopkins Medical School's Division of General Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine. Dr. Robert W. Blum is the Robert W. Gates Sr. professor and chairman of the Department of Population at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Their e-mail addresses are email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.