California lawmakers were convinced pregnant women in the state were being duped, showing up at crisis pregnancy centers to get information on abortion but instead met with a pitch to carry to term.
So they passed a law requiring the centers to post information about where women might obtain an abortion elsewhere — a move that, in the eyes of the clinics, undercuts everything they’re working toward, and infringes on their First Amendment rights to boot.
They’ll get a chance to make their case to the Supreme Court on Tuesday, asking the justices to nix a law that has even troubled some liberal activists, and that deeply disturbs pro-lifers.
“For the law to target them and compel them to give a message that is totally the opposite of why they exist, [that] is why we are at the Supreme Court,” said Anne O’Connor, legal affairs director for the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates.
California’s Reproductive Freedom Accountability, Comprehensive Care, and Transparency Act, enacted in 2015, requires licensed pregnancy and women’s health facilities to provide notice to clients that abortion is an option and the state has family planning programs available to eligible women.
The legislature said it feared women were being misled by showing up at a pregnancy center, expecting a full range of options to be discussed but instead not hearing about abortion.
The law not only requires notification of state programs for abortion or contraception, it also requires crisis pregnancy centers that don’t have a medical license to advertise that fact to their clientele.
The pregnancy centers have already lost at the lower court level, where judges refused to block the law, saying the state’s law is “viewpoint neutral” because any clinic could be subject to the notices.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals also said the state’s notice doesn’t suggest a preference for abortion or contraceptive services, but only makes the option known.
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who is the named defendant in the case, predicted the high court will also conclude there is nothing coercive about the law.
“Everyone’s entitled to accurate information about their health care. That’s simply what the FACT Act says, is you’re entitled to know what you have a right to when it comes to your health care,” he said.
But California Gov. Jerry Brown wasn’t as confident, suggesting the case was a chance to get guidance from the justices.
He said the law was needed so women weren’t confused about the type of facility they were getting advice from.
“There were charges of misrepresentation. This was an attempt to create truthful information and make it available. That’s all. The high court will tell us what the rules are, and I’m good with that,” said Mr. Brown.
The law exempts facilities operated by the federal government, as well as pregnancy centers that are Medi-Cal Family PACT providers, like Planned Parenthood. Medi-Cal Family PACT providers already promote a broader arrange of reproductive health services, including “all FDA approved contraceptive methods and supplies” and options such as abortions.
Because the pro-life centers’ religious beliefs don’t support contraceptives or abortion drugs, they aren’t exempted from the California law, so they must post the notices or else face a civil penalty of up to $1,000 per violation.
The clinics say that since MediCal Family PACT providers are exempted, that means the law is effectively targeting only pro-life centers.
It’s not clear what effect the notices are having on the crisis clinics’ customers, and Ms. O’Connor’s lawyer deflected questions about the numbers.
But she said the case has actually led to more people learning about pro-life crisis pregnancy centers in their community.
“This case has provided an opportunity to really showcase the great work they do,” said Ms. O’Connor.
Kristen Waggoner, the attorney with Alliance Defending Freedom representing NIFLA, said courts have blocked other state laws similar to the one passed in California.
“This is part of a national campaign that pro-abortion activists are trying to shut down pro-life pregnancy centers that are wanting to provide practical information and resources,” said Ms. Waggoner.
But Claudia Haupt, a law professor at Yale University, said it’s unfair to compare California’s law to other states because the wording isn’t identical, and California’s law doesn’t have anything to do with the viewpoint of pro-life crisis pregnancy centers.
“There is no question that the First Amendment protects pro-life speakers but there is a problem when you disguise a political or religious message as professional advice,” said Ms. Haupt. “They are free to talk about whatever they want.”