A new California law forces pregnancy centers to promote abortions and, last year, the federal appeals court that is considered the most liberal in the country upheld it. Now pregnancy centers are fighting back.
Today, Liberty Counsel is filing a petition to the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of three California faith-based, crisis pregnancy centers that are forced to advertise an offer of “immediate free or low-cost …abortion” to their clients according to state law. This law forces Liberty Counsel’s clients to speak a message that is profoundly at odds with their religious beliefs and directly contradicts what they actually want to say.
This law, which was co-sponsored by the National Abortion Rights Action League(NARAL), demands unlicensed crisis pregnancy centers post a notice advertising abortions and abortifacients in 48 size font (which covers two 8.5”x11” pages) in each language required (up to 11 languages and 22 pages) at both the entrance to their clinic and a visible location within the waiting area. In addition, it also must be included on their websites and in every promotional material they publish with a font size and/or color that draws more attention to it than the other words on the page. The required notice reads:
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.
Furthermore, the law charges a cumulative fine of $1,000 for every repeated instance that the notice is not communicated to a client. This law sabotages freedom of speech by forcing organizations to encourage actions that are in direct opposition to their religious beliefs and counter the mission and purpose of their organizations.
“This law is like forcing the Sierra Club to advocate for oil spills or demanding St. Jude expose their patients to lead poisoning,” said Mat Staver, Founder and Chairman of Liberty Counsel. “However, this law is actually much more repulsive. While those situations might cause unintended harm, abortion is intended – even specifically designed – to kill. The organizations we represent believe that unborn children are human beings who are much more sensitive to pain. These children deserve life and the opportunity to pursue happiness. It is the deepest over reach of the local government to demand that someone participate in murder by promoting the opposite of what they believe to vulnerable mothers who are facing a life altering decision. This government overreach should shake every freedom-loving person to the core,” Staver said.
Surprisingly, the law provides an exemption for clinics that already sell more expensive abortion services. They are not required to advertise this free or low-cost option. Its sponsors either believe naïvely that employees will advertise direct competition to their company’s financial gain or they wish to give greater protections for a company’s bottom line than for a person’s constitutionally guaranteed freedoms.
Opponents say the California law infringes upon the freedom of speech guaranteed by the First Amendment by forcing pro-life pregnancy help organizations to disseminate a state-sponsored message effectively referring for abortions. Named “The Reproductive FACT Act” by its authors and passed through both houses of the State Legislature on a party-line vote, the bill is the subject of multiple lawsuits.
“This bill is nothing short of a state-sponsored attack on women by the highly profitable abortion industry,” Peggy Hartshorn, Ph.D., president of Heartbeat International, which has 45 of its nearly 2,000 affiliates in California, said. “Women desperately need emotional support and practical resources during an unexpected pregnancy. Gov. Brown has made it more difficult for women to find the help they need to make the healthiest decision for everyone involved in an unexpected pregnancy.”
The law will force 150 local pregnancy help non-profits, including the 74 state-licensed free ultrasound facilities, to give each of its clients the following disclaimer, which includes the phone number of a county social services office where a client could obtain an abortion covered by Medi-Cal.
The notice, which the law specifies must either be posted as a public notice in “22-point type,” “distributed to all clients in no less than 14-point font” or distributed digitally “at the time of check-in or arrival,” applies to all of the entities—even those licensed by the state.
“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. To determine whether you qualify, contact the county social services office at [insert the telephone number].”
Meanwhile, pregnancy help centers that do not offer medical services will be required to post the following signage in two “clear and conspicuous” places—“in the entrance of the facility and at least one additional area where clients wait to receive services,” as well as in “any print and digital advertising materials including Internet Web sites”.
The font required is to be “in no less than 48-point type” and will read as follows:
“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.”
Similar government-sponsored speech for pregnancy centers has been struck down as unconstitutional in Austin (TX), Baltimore and Montgomery County (MD) and New York City.
“We must really be hurting the abortion business if they have to come after us and have us advertise for them,” Marie Leatherby, Director of Sacramento Life Center, a state-licensed medical facility, said. “For 44 years, we have offered compassionate care to thousands of women with unplanned or unsupported pregnancies. Our patients and our community love us, and we keep our doors open because they believe in us and our mission.
“Now we are forced to fight this in the courts, as it goes against our first Amendment Right to freedom of speech and to live according to our conscience.”