As of Jan. 1, crisis pregnancy centers in California must inform their pregnant clients that a state-funded abortion is one of their options.
The ruling went into effect after a federal judge in California upheld a recently passed law, Reproductive FACT Act (AB775). The judge rejected arguments from three pregnancy centers that the law violates free-speech rights.
The 288 pregnancy centers in California will soon feel the effects of this law, but Anne O’Connor, vice president of legal affairs for the National Institute for Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA), says that clinics need not yet comply and hopes for an injunction.
“The law itself provides for a 30-day notice of compliance,” O’Connor told The Tidings. “NIFLA has about 100 centers in California and we’ve filed a hearing on their behalf and our hearing for our injunction is Jan. 11.”
O’Connor says she hopes for a positive outcome from the hearing — specifically an “injunction so that we don’t have to worry … ‘Should we or shouldn’t we post the [new sign].’”
In the original bill clinics had the single option of posting “a public notice in a conspicuous place where individuals wait that may be easily read by those seeking services from the facility.” This notice was required to be at least 8.5 inches by 11 inches and written in no less than 22-point type.
The final draft of the bill also allows clinics to distribute printed notices (in no less than 14-point type) to clients in lieu of the public poster. These notices may be included in the packet of materials patients sign before proceeding with counseling. A digital version is also permitted.
The notice states, “California has public programs that provide immediate free or low-cost access to comprehensive family planning services (including all FDA-approved methods of contraception), prenatal care, and abortion for eligible women.” The notice then lists the phone number of the county social services office.
One CEO at a crisis pregnancy clinic in Los Angeles (who requested anonymity) says that her colleagues have agreed to implement the new ruling. While many clinics see the ruling as a direct promotion of abortion, this CEO says that providing a county social services number isn’t necessarily immoral since it is only indirectly supplying information that clients could obtain on their own.
In addition, she notes, “We are a non-profit. We’re not going to use donor money to pay fines to the state.” The initial civil penalty is $500, rising to $1,000 for each subsequent offense.
However, regarding the abortion rights movement’s attack on pregnancy centers, she says, “This won’t stop here. This is just the beginning.”
O’Connor says she believes the bill must be fought. She is particularly concerned that the bill’s second stipulation will hit unlicensed pregnancy centers the hardest: in their waiting rooms and on any print or digital advertisements they must state, “This facility is not licensed as a medical facility by the State of California and has no licensed medical provider who provides or directly supervises the provision of services.”
“That’s a lot of words to fit into a Google ad,” O’Connor says, adding that the advertisement would have to be larger than usual to fit the text in the manner that the bill requires, meaning the pregnancy centers would incur increased costs.
“There is no proof that any of these centers were calling themselves medical or holding themselves out as medical providers,” she adds. “There is no state concern that is being addressed by this law. It is just harassment.”
O’Connor says she believes this bill will set a precedent for the future.
“If the state can force pregnancy centers to give these kinds of state-sponsored messages, this is just the beginning of the slippery slope,” she says, noting that churches, nonprofits and other religious organizations may soon be required to promote state-sponsored messages as well.
“We have to win this battle.”