Las Vegas Sun

October 20, 2019

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COMMENTARY:

End the pious prevarication around crisis pregnancy centers

The Nevada Democratic Party and attorney general candidate Aaron Ford have rightly criticized Republican attorney general candidate Wes Duncan’s cozy campaigning with Nevada’s self-styled “crisis pregnancy centers.”

The criticism centers around a well-established truth — crisis pregnancy centers present themselves in misleading ways to dupe vulnerable women into their doors. The centers often promote themselves as safe spaces where women can discuss their “options.” Many assiduously scrub their websites of information about their religious affiliations to avoid tipping off women that they’ll receive more evangelism than evidence-based medicine.

Misleading practices abound. Consider the website of First Choice Pregnancy Services — an outfit Duncan claims “should be commended ... for the work they do in our community.” The organization’s website prominently suggests that women may not need abortions because “20-25 percent of pregnancies will end naturally, in what is known as a miscarriage.”

First Choice’s statistics appear in tension with numbers from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, which puts early pregnancy loss for known pregnancies at about 10 percent. Regardless, pushing women to delay abortions in hopes of a divine miscarriage may complicate and restrict their ability to access an abortion after time passes. A candid discussion of available options would give this reality equal time.

An attorney general’s commitment to candor matters. Nevada’s ethics rules also apply to the state’s top lawyer and impose significant obligations.

For example, Nevada Rule 8.4(d) makes clear that it “is professional misconduct for a lawyer to ... (e)ngage in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation.” Although Nevada has not expressly adopted the comments to the American Bar Association’s Model Rules of Professional Conduct, Nevada’s rules instruct that they may be “consulted for guidance in interpreting” the Nevada rules. The comment to ABA Rule 8.4 makes clear that “(l)awyers holding public office assume legal responsibilities going beyond those of other citizens.” Another comment to ABA Rule 4.1 makes clear that “Misrepresentations can also occur by partially true but misleading statements or omissions that are the equivalent of affirmative false statements.”

An attorney general should be careful about appearing to endorse organizations that present themselves in misleading ways to gain access to vulnerable women. Ultimately, the Nevada Attorney General’s office bears significant responsibility for protecting the public from deceptive practices.

An attorney general committed to honest dealing would act to make sure that crisis pregnancy centers do not portray themselves in ways that mislead the public into thinking that they are something they are not. For example, a New York attorney general reached a settlement with a crisis pregnancy center that required it to provide clear disclosures that it was “not a medical facility.”

To be sure, an attorney general candidate should present his or her views on the policy choices facing Nevada. To his credit, Duncan clearly and proudly stands behind his opposition to abortion. A voter curious about his position on abortion may quickly and easily discover that he describes himself as “pro life.” Sadly, persons seeking medical services often encounter misleading advertisements for crisis pregnancy centers.

Nevada needs an attorney general committed to candor and to telling the truth. America’s public squares have been flooded with falsehoods and propaganda. One recent report clocked President Donald Trump issuing an average of about 6.5 false or misleading claims a day and over 3,000 since taking office.

Notably, Trump is not a lawyer bound by Nevada’s ethics rules. An attorney general must hold to a higher standard.

Benjamin Edwards is an associate professor of law, and Ann McGinley is the William S. Boyd Professor of Law at the Boyd School at UNLV.