The Project Defending Life Pregnancy Resource Center shouldn't expect a welcoming muffin basket from its new neighbors.
The anti-abortion advocacy center opened July 1 across the street from the University of New Mexico Center for Reproductive Health, an outpatient clinic in Albuquerque that performs abortions. Though Project Defending Life spokeswoman Tara Shaver says the center "wants to be a positive alternative" to the UNM clinic, women's reproductive health advocates are decrying the opening of another "fake pregnancy center" in the state.
"It is not a health care provider and should not represent itself as offering medical information or counseling to women about pregnancy or abortion," Southwest Women's Law Center Executive Director Jane Wishner says. "Women need accurate, unbiased information about their reproductive health."
Shaver confirms that there are no licensed health care professionals on site, but says a physician is responsible for training the center's personnel in performing ultrasounds.
Joan LaMunyon-Sanford, executive director of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, says these types of centers represent themselves as real medical clinics because staff, usually volunteers, wear white lab coats or other medical garb. She tells SFR that the centers make clients—often vulnerable young or low-income women—wait hours just to get results from drug store pregnancy tests, using the time to try to convince them to continue the pregnancy.
Although PDL advertises as offering referral services and counseling, it provides only abstinence education, Shaver confirms.
During the last legislative session, state Rep. Joni Gutierrez, D-Doña Ana, introduced a bill that would have required such "limited services pregnancy centers" to disclose that they don't give referrals for abortions or birth control and don't comply with patient privacy laws. Gutierrez' bill died in committee.
"If patients are coming in there who are clearly sexually active, and they're not getting any kind of counseling for family planning or sexually transmitted infections or any other kind of reproductive health care, but only being shamed and coerced into not having an abortion, we think that's really dangerous to women," LaMunyon-Sanford says.
PDL is firing back, however, by distributing an audio file it says captures a 911 call from the UNM Center for Reproductive Health. Callers who identify themselves as being at the UNM center can be heard talking to a dispatcher about a woman who is breathing abnormally and turning gray, though there is no suggestion that the woman's condition was caused by an abortion procedure.
The UNM Center for Reproductive Health didn't return a call for comment before press time.