Center That Mimicked Abortion Clinic Convicted of Deception
FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) _ A jury’s finding that an anti-abortion center violated state law by appearing to be an abortion clinic should send a signal to similar operations nationwide, a prosecutor says.
By an 11-1 vote Tuesday, a jury found that the Pregnancy Problem Center near downtown Fort Worth violated the deceptive trade practices law. In state civil cases, a vote of at least 10-2 is needed for a decision.
Operators of the center were ordered to pay a $39,000 fine and $69,000 in legal fees.
The jurors concluded that the center willfully deceived pregnant women with advertising that made it appear the center was a facility where they could go to get abortions.
Women who asked over the telephone if they could have abortions performed at the center were told they could, center director Chuck Pelletier acknowledged during the trial. However, women arriving at the center were shown graphic anti-abortion film and were asked personal questions about their sex lives, and attempts were made to persuade them against having abortions.
Defense attorney Shelby Sharpe told jurors in closing arguments Monday that their verdict would be of landmark importance. The attorney general’s challenge is the first in the nation brought by a governmental representative that has gone to court.
″I think this sends a strong message to (anti-abortion) clinics across the country,″ said Assistant Attorney General Steve Gardner. ″Don’t lie to pregnant women in the name of facts, in the name of help, in the name of God or anybody.″
The fines and fees were assessed against Pelletier and against Mother and Unborn Baby Care of North Texas Inc., the non-profit corporation set up to accept contributions for the clinic.
Pelletier said the center will appeal the decision.
Until Judge George Crowley enters a final order in the next few days, center operators will remain under a temporary injunction which forbids them from representing that the clinic provides abortions or abortion referrals.
Eliot Shavin, the assistant attorney general who prosecuted the case, said he hopes the judge’s permanent injunction will require the center to disclose up-front that it does not do abortions, and that it is an anti-abortion operation.
Shavin said the disclosures should be included in advertisements and in telephone conversations with women setting up appointments.