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Pregnancy centers face new regulation in King County

Thursday the King County Board of Health approved a new regulation for pregnancy resource centers, otherwise known as limited service pregnancy centers.

Under the rule, they need to post signage saying "This facility is not a health care facility."

The networks are often run by conservative Christian groups that oppose abortion rights. King County Board of Health Chair (and King County Council member) Rod Dembowski says they are often not staffed by medical professionals. He says the crisis pregnancy centers, as their organizers call them, dissuade women from reproductive services including birth control and abortion, and can delay their access to comprehensive medical care.

Dembowski: "We want to make sure that pregnant women have complete, accurate, and timely information about their pregnancy when they are seeking help. Unfortunately there is a segment of service providers that may be perceived as being medical providers but that's incorrect."

There are an estimated 18 of these facilities in King County. That includes Care Net of Puget Sound, which is listed as an example in the BOH rule.

Care Net says it provides free services including pregnancy tests and ultrasounds. Executive Director Kim Triller calls the Board of Health regulation religious discrimination.

Triller: "All of those organizations listed [in the regulation] were Christian, and all of those organizations had as their mission to help women who have decided to carry the babies through the delivery and on."

She argues that Care Net is a health-care facility under state law, and says the organization has two board certified OB-GYNs. The Board of Health says facilities that prove they are a state recognized health care facility will be exempt from the signage.

Under the new rule, crisis pregnancy centers will need to post a sign on the building and in marketing materials, in 10 different languages, that it’s “not a health care facility.” Centers could be fined up to $100 per violation.  The Board of Health expects to spend $40,000 a year on enforcing the sign requirement.

Washington state lawmakers have considered, but not passed, similar rules in recent years.

The rule is being praised by progressive organizations including Legal Voice. A statement from the organization said “crisis pregnancy centers frequently use strategic advertising to target people seeking free assistance when facing an unintended pregnancy, many of whom are young, low-income, and uninsured.”

Spokesperson Sara Ainsworth said “we applaud the Board of Health’s action today, and hope the board will continue to work to ensure that no one is denied access to health care by misinformation and deceptive practices.”