Hell-bent on forcing pro-life Hawaiians to speak a pro-abortion message, lawmakers in the Aloha State are ignoring advice from their own attorney general’s office, which contends the Hawaiian Senate is already trampling on its citizens’ free speech.
First reported by Honolulu Civil Beat, the state’s senate president is overriding concerns from the deputy attorney general, refusing to act ahead of a house vote Tuesday that could put SB 501 on the desk of Gov. David Ige.
The state senate censored opposing testimony to the bill prior to its Ways and Means Committee vote Feb. 23, holding back several written statements by citizens linked with the state’s five pro-life pregnancy centers from committee members.
One of those testimonies was from Stacey Jimenez, director of operations for A Place for Women in Waipio—a ministry run by Calvary Chapel of Pearl Harbor. Jimenez had written to refute the claims made by a former client who is now president of Planned Parenthood’s Generation Action. Planned Parenthood Northwest and Hawaii—which is currently suing an Idaho pregnancy center over use of a shared parking lot—has been a vocal supporter of the legislation
The former client, Morgen Trube, accused Jimenez’ organization of making her watch what she called “coercive videos” before offering her a free pregnancy test, leaving her with the feeling that “the only thing they cared about was the baby.”
Tellingly, Trube’s testimony—even if it were true—would be wholly irrelevant to SB 501, which requires pro-life pregnancy centers that receive no government funds to post signage promoting state-covered abortion.
Jimenez refuted Trube’s claim in her testimony, citing a voluntary client feedback survey Trube had filled out describing her visit as “very comfortable.” That reference was enough for senate president Ron Kouchi to censor Jimenez’ testimony in its entirety, citing the 1996 Health Insurance Portability and Accountabilty Act.
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Not only is that argument bunk—the state senate is not a HIPAA-covered entity—but keeping Jimenez and others from testifying violates the First Amendment, according to Hawaii’s deputy attorney general Robyn Chun.
In a letter dated March 29 responding to concerns from Jimenez and Democratic senator Breene Harimoto, Chun reiterated that the senate had denied its citizens’ First Amendment’s right to petition the government, citing both the U.S. and Hawaiian Constitutions’ guarantee.
“The public has a constitutionally protected right to free speech and a right to petition the government,” Chun wrote. “We know of no authority that allows or requires the Senate to redact or edit written testimony submitted by the public.”
SB 501 mirrors a 2015 California state law that requires pro-life medical clinics that offer free ultrasounds to advertise taxpayer-funded abortions. That law, though upheld by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, is likely on its way to the U.S. Supreme Court, while another law in Illinois forcing pro-life medical professionals to refer for abortions is facing similar challenges in court.
Past attempts by local authorities to compel pro-life pregnancy centers to post signage either declaring the services they do not offer or referring patients—even indirectly—to abortion providers have been struck down in New York City, Austin (TX), Baltimore (MD) and Montgomery County (MD), the latter of which cost taxpayers $330,000 in attorneys fees.
Hawaii’s house of representatives is made up of 45 Democrats and only five Republicans, making Tuesday’s vote highly in favor of approving the bill.