An abortion advocacy group is criticizing state-supported crisis pregnancy centers for providing inaccurate information about abortions and their long-term health risks.
NARAL Pro-Choice Minnesota released its conclusions Tuesday after conducting a covert review of the pregnancy centers -- sending 27 volunteers into the centers where they pretended to be pregnant. "Women should never be misled when seeking information about pregnancy, birth control, abortion or sexually transmitted infections. Yet it is happening across the state," said Linnea House, executive director of the NARAL organization.
State officials said they planned to review both the NARAL report and the practices of the pregnancy centers, whose directors defended the information they provide to pregnant women.
Centers that focus on abortion alternatives have existed for years, but received a boost in 2005 with the Legislature's passage of the Positive Alternatives Act. Under the statute, the Minnesota Department of Health has issued $2.4 million annually to organizations that promote alternatives to abortion and/or provide parenting training and financial assistance to needy parents.
The statute requires the state health commissioner to "approve any information provided by a grantee on the health risks associated with abortions to ensure that the information is medically accurate."
On Tuesday, Deputy Commissioner Jim Koppel said. "While we have not yet had a chance to review the full report, we are concerned when there are allegations that an organization receiving grants from the Minnesota Department of Health does not provide accurate information to consumers."
Directors of the centers defended the information they provide to pregnant women -- many of whom they said are teens or college students too afraid to talk with their parents about their possible pregnancies. Poor women also benefit from the centers' free pregnancy testing.
"Our goal isn't necessarily to persuade women against abortion," said Lisa Schmitz, executive director of the University LifeCare Center. "Our goal is to give them medically accurate information about all of their choices."
State funding has helped the center purchase sonogram equipment for verifying pregnancies and offer incentive programs by which pregnant women who participate in parenting classes receive items their babies will need.
Abortions have declined in Minnesota over the past decade from 14,450 in 2000 to 11,505 in 2010, according to state health reports. There is disagreement on whether this is due to the promotion of abortion alternatives and abstinence programs or to programs that expanded the availability of birth control.
As an example of inaccurate information, the NARAL report cited a pamphlet from one center on the risk of breast cancer following abortion. According to the pamphlet, "most studies conducted so far show a significant linkage between abortion and breast cancer."
NARAL said 73 percent of centers scrutinized by its investigators claimed some link between breast cancer and abortion -- even though organizations such as the American Cancer Society have said no cause-and-effect relationship exists.
A Star Tribune review of a dozen centers' websites showed varying approaches. University LifeCare, for example, said only that women with family histories of breast cancer should seek information from their doctors regardless of whether they are pregnant or considering abortion. Pregnancy Consulting Services, a crisis center in Robbinsdale that is not state-funded, said that "a number of reliable studies have concluded that there may be a link between abortion and the later development of breast cancer."
NARAL Minnesota did not name the centers that it claimed provide inaccurate information. House said organizations in other states were sued after they conducted similar investigations and named clinics.
Jeremy Olson • 612-673-7744