Austin City Council Considering “Truth in Advertising” Ordinance for CPCs

The city of Austin, Texas is considering passing an ordinance to require so-called crisis pregnancy centers to post a notice that they do not provide birth control, abortion services or referrals to abortion providers. The Austin Chronicle reports:

On the Austin City Council’s agenda for its April 8 meeting is a proposed ordinance that would require so-called “crisis pregnancy centers” to post a sign to notify consumers that they do not provide or make referrals for either abortion or contraceptive services.

If the ordinance is enacted, Austin would become the second city in the nation to provide the consumer alert for clients visiting CPCs – unlicensed centers that provide pregnancy tests and pregnancy “counseling,” but do not offer any medical services. “We are simply requiring limited service pregnancy centers to disclose what is factual and true about the services they offer,” Council member Bill Spelman, who is sponsoring the ordinance, said in a press release. [bold type in original story as quoted.]

On Tuesday the Archdiocese of Baltimore filed a lawsuit against the City of Baltimore saying that the ordinance violated their right to freedom of speech and religion. The Austin Chronicle explains:

To be clear, the Baltimore ordinance – like that proposed by Spelman (and co-sponsored by Laura Morrison and Mayor Pro Tem Mike Martinez) – defines the centers as “limited-service pregnancy centers” and requires only that those facilities that do not provide the range of reproductive health services post a notice to that effect. Indeed, as with the proposed Austin ordinance, the Baltimore law does not require any CPC to actually provide or make referrals for either of those services.

The Austin ordinance would likely apply to a handful of CPCs in the city, and is said by its authors not meant to hurt their businesses – rather, it is meant, as a “truth-in-advertising” law, to protect women, as consumers. “Regardless of how one feels about birth control or safe, legal abortion, this ordinance is about providing accurate information,” said Martinez.  [bold type in original story as quoted.]

The Texas state government provides some funding to CPCs through its “Alternatives to Abortion” program.

Indeed, in 2005 lawmakers took $5 million that would otherwise go to providers of traditional family-planning services for low-income women to create (via a budget rider) the new “Alternatives to Abortion” program, as a way to directly fund CPCs and task them with “promoting childbirth.” In a series of articles, the Chronicle found that the money hasn’t exactly done much to provide women with any real services – aside from referring them to other state and federal programs, and providing a nice annual raise for Vincent Friedewald, the executive director of the Texas Pregnancy Care Network, which administers the state contract. Still, in the 2009 session – a bad budget year – lawmakers allocated an additional $3 million over the biennium for the program, boosting the Alternative to Abortion budget by a whopping 60%.

In spending that money, the state-funded CPCs are not required to be licensed or regulated, nor are they required to provide any medical services at all. The city of Austin proposed ordinance is only seeking to make clear what services a woman can expect when visiting a CPC: “Women facing an unintended pregnancy need to understand what services are available to them,” Morrison said in a press release. “This ordinance helps ensure that.”

Sara Cleveland, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas released a statement:

NARAL Pro-Choice Texas has long worked to expose the deceptive practices of certain CPCs, publishing multiple research reports about them since 2005. Many CPCs list themselves in phone and online directories under the headings “abortion,” “abortion alternatives,” “family planning information centers” or “women’s health organization” even though the abortion service they provide is to dissuade women from exercising their right to choose by using anti-choice propaganda.

“We should all be able to agree with the ordinance’s goals of truth in advertising. Lines are crossed when a CPC is not up front about its services, or when a center uses misinformation,” continued Cleveland. NARAL Pro-Choice Texas investigated three centers in Austin, all of which gave misinformation about abortion or birth control and none of which would provide a referral, even for birth control.

You can read NARAL Pro-Choice Texas 2009 report on CPCs here.

Like this story? Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

For more information or to schedule an interview with contact

  • suburbangrrrl

    Another angle I’d love to see explored regarding deceptive practices of CPC’s is the use of the word “counselor” by CPC workers. I see that Texas–not surprisingly– doesn’t require CPC’s to be licensed. I’d be curious to know if any state requires these CPC’s to be licensed in some capacity.  Often these workers tout themselves as “counselors” but they are not licensed counselors as far as state professional licensing boards go.


    I am a licensed social worker. I’ve been licensed in several states. In those states, the laws pertaining to the practice of social work prohibit someone from identifying themselves as a social worker in a professional capacity if they are not licensed by the state and, therefore, meet certain educational, professional, and ethical standards.  I would be curious to know whether statutes governing licensed counselors are similar.  Are these people hanging out a shingle saying they offer pregnancy counseling violating laws governing professional counselors if such pregnancy counselors are not licensed?  I realize that the term “counselor” is a much more generalized term–like coaching– than “social work”.  But referring to oneself as a counselor if not licensed is deceptive.  The average person is going to think they have professional training.  Perhaps some of them do, but some do not.  Truth in advertising ordinances should also require disclosure if CPC’s and their “counselors” are not licensed.

    Honestly, that these agencies can operate without public accountability is appalling. They provide no real service to women that legitimate agencies and professionals can provide:  supporting women in making their own pregnancy decisions.  For women who do not choose abortion, there are licensed (and ethical, I might add) adoption agencies and teen parent services agencies as well as licensed counselors and social workers who will provide ethical and unpressured counseling that women can turn to.

  • squirrely-girl

    Great point SuburbanGrrrl! I’ve taken SO MUCH issue with CPCs and “sidewalk counselors” for the exact same reason. I know “counselor” makes the individual sounds a little more professional and intelligent perhaps but those titles really are reserved for licensing boards and I know I’ve worked way too hard over the years to share that title and responsibility with people who just make things up. 


    Honestly if CPCs want people (at least me) to start taking them seriously maybe they should start following the same rules and expectations as EVERYBODY ELSE.

  • stacey-burns

    I’d love to see my adopted town of Minneapolis copy Baltimore and Austin! Not only are these CPCs not licensed as medical facilities, but because they’re not, they’re not required to follow HIPAA privacy standards. Free unnecessary ultrasound? Sure, drop on by! Licensed counselors? Who needs a license when you’ve been teaching Sunday school for a decade?


    In Minnesota, our debt-ridden state government has allotted millions of dollars to CPCs via the so-called Positive Alternatives Grant Program since 2005, when Presidential Wannabe Governor Tim Pawlenty signed it into law. Positive Alternatives to what? Abortion, of course, regardless of whether that might be the most preferable alternative for a woman seeking advice on an unintended pregnancy.


    So, yeah, I’d love to see ordinances requiring CPCs in Minneapolis and St. Paul, especially those receiving money from our cash-strapped state, to post truthful signs for all to see.


  • elyzabeth

    Instead of getting truth in advertising, it looks like you guys got April declared as “Abortion Recovery Awareness Month,” thanks to Pawlenty.  Your governor sounds like a peach.

  • stacey-burns

    Indeed, Elyzabeth–Pawlenty might as well be the mascot for the MCCL. And he wants President Obama’s job.

  • heidigerbracht

    Dispatch from Austin:  Council Member Bill Spelman, was successful today in passage of this ordinance, on a 7-0 vote.  

  • crowepps

    Enjoy your success and prepare for the upcoming “freedom of speech/right to lie” lawsuit.

  • crowepps

    I have seen reports of CPC employees gossiping about patients with their social network, calling a client’s parents and revealing their pregnancy, calling a client’s PASTOR and revealing their pregnancy, and even following the client around high school pleading with them not to abort, which revealed the pregnancy.

    Over the following days, the anti-choice extremists called the police to say the teenager was being forced to have an abortion, showed up at her home, called her father’s workplace, and even went to her school and urged classmates to pressure her not to have an abortion.

    school officials escorted her to a Christian pregnancy crisis center, where she was administered a pregnancy test and given counseling. Staff at the crisis center then shared information about the student with the school.



    Any organization that does not follow HIPAA standards should be forbidden to call itself a ‘clinic’ or ‘health center’.  Wearing those white lab coats should entail an assumption of responsibility as well.

  • rpb

    If I were them, I’d have no problem at all posting compliant signs like:
    We support Human Rights.
    Therefore, we do not provide services which assist nor cause the death of Humans of any age, nor do we provide referrals to businesses which do.
    We provide pregnancy counselling and associated services.
    “This center does not provide abortions or refer to abortion providers. This center does not provide or refer to providers of U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved birth control drugs and medical devices.” We also do not serve Hamburgers, Chili, nor French Fries. (No one says you can’t post additional signs or additional language.)
    There you go, complete truth in advertising.


    Now, when do the other clinics who consistant mis-report and cover up their statistics get to post signs?

  • squirrely-girl

    Oh, don’t worry too much – PLENTY of states require women’s reproductive health clinics to post ALL KINDS OF SIGNS and provide ALL KINDS of “counseling” prior to receiving services, whether than information is empirically supported by science and medicine or not.