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The Free Congress © Commentary:

What's Going On in New York?
By Connie Marshner
February 26, 2002


On one level, what New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer has done recently looks like the quintessential playing out of the design of the Federalist Papers. An interest group helps elect somebody, who then returns the favor after he is in office. This is understandable, and when the subject matter is bridges or highways, James Madison and John Jay would approve. On another level, Madison and Jay would be gagging at the subject matter of Eliot Spitzer's show of political gratitude.

On January 4, Spitzer launched a legal offensive against pregnancy help centers in New York State. Eleven organizations, 10 crisis pregnancy centers and one pro-life medical clinic, have been subpoenaed to turn over records and extensive information. Why? Because "the Attorney General has a good faith belief" that they may have violated some state statutes about deceptive advertising.

Pregnancy resource centers, also known as PRC's, are places with names like "Expectant Mother Care" or "Pregnancy Center." A woman desperate about a pregnancy can go there and find someone who cares and get connected with lots of different kinds of help, from clothing to medical to housing to counseling. Get some real choices, one might say. Now Spitzer is planning to sue them.

The centers are usually staffed by volunteers, and are mostly funded by freewill contributions. There are about 2,500 of them divided among 50 states, with more than 20 in New York State. Generally, they are listed in the phone book under "Abortion Alternatives," usually with a little notice courtesy of the phone book publisher that these centers do not provide abortions. Never mind that other Attorneys General in other states have been asked to sue centers for false advertising, but concluded there were no grounds for action.

So what's really going on here?

Well, on one level, it's simple political payback. Spitzer received a $2,800 campaign contribution from the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL), and soon after his election addressed a NARAL luncheon in January, 1999. He promised to use his office to advance NARAL's agenda. True to his promise, he soon created a new Reproductive Rights Unit in the Attorney General's office, and hired the former President and Executive Director of NOW-NYC (formerly a fellow of the ACLU's Reproductive Freedom Project) to run it.

On another level, it's just another tactic in the pro-abortion arsenal. Twenty years ago, the abortion industry was waving this same anti-pregnancy center flag. NARAL even wrote a manual to guide its affiliates in shutting down pregnancy care centers: "A Step by Step Guide-Unmasking Fake Clinics."

What Spitzer is doing reads like a case study for NARAL's handbook.

On a third level, Spitzer's attack is evidence of the ongoing trickling down of the abortion wars to the state level.

On another level, one must ask: why? Why harass a few volunteer organizations which are making nothing more than a barely perceptible dent in New York State's huge abortion rate?

There is ideology, to be sure. The ideology that equates killing one's child with fulfilling oneself, helping the earth, and other assorted supposed goods seems to be ratcheting itself up in intensity as if to ensure that abortion be the only choice that a desperate woman has. As the number of post-abortive women increases, the hatred of abortion increases. Those who advocate abortion find themselves getting desperate to re-gain the golden aura of the 70's when abortion was regarded as a positive life experience. Trying to extinguish voices which say abortion is a bad choice is one way of proceeding.

If I were inclined toward a Marxist view of reality, I'd have another theory.

Let's see, each abortion costs, what? Three to five hundred dollars is typical for New York City (though Spanish language papers carry ads for abortions as low as $100, it almost never ends up being just that). Each abortion takes, what, ten minutes of a doctor's time? Figure six abortions an hour for six hours, 36 a day. On a good day, an abortionist can take in between $10,800 and $18,000.

Nor is it all. Thanks to new directions in medical research, lots of those aborted baby bodies and body parts can be sold to labs for as much as $1,000 each. Add another $36,000 to the day's take. Comes to a tidy sum, one might say.

Figure relatively low overhead for that kind of work, too. True, there's malpractice insurance, but because abortions are constitutionally protected there's not much in the way of regulation or equipment to worry about. Staff doesn't have to be particularly good, either, when the customers are not likely to be telling their friends about the experience anyhow.

Then understand that ten percent of all the abortions in the United States occur in New York State. There are eight abortions for every ten live births in New York City. In New York City alone, abortions are performed at 55 doctor's offices and clinics - not counting the hospitals that do it. Now that's got to be a competitive market.

Could it be -? Dare one breathe the word? Could greed be an issue here? In all five boroughs of NYC, there are 10 abortion alternatives, a measly ten pregnancy resource centers, in existence. Couldn't Eliot Spitzer pick on someone his own size?

Connie Marshner is director of the Free Congress Foundation's Center for Governance.

This column is the property of the Free Congress Foundation and may not be reproduced without their permission. For comments and inquiries, contact Angie Wheeler at awheeler@freecongress.org. Visit our website at www.FreeCongress.org