On January 18, 2011, a new bill was introduced in the Washington State House and Senate that tries to put Pregnancy Resource Centers and Medical Clinics out of business.
HB 1366 is an amended version of the bill defeated in the State of Washington in 2010. NARAL and Planned Parenthood did not take that defeat well and now have focused their lobbying efforts on this new bill with a stated purpose of preventing PRCs from misleading people about the nature of their services.
Limited Service Pregnancy Centers:
· The proposed legislation creates a new definition of “limited service pregnancy centers” that would apply to every Pregnancy Resource Center (PRC) and medical clinic (PRMC) in the state of Washington. A “limited service pregnancy center” under this bill is an organization that advertises, offers or provides pregnancy tests or ultrasounds and information about adoption or abortion. This definition applies notwithstanding the presence of a licensed health care provider on staff, as a volunteer or on the board.
· The definition, however, specifically excludes: Organizations that provide prenatal medical care, comprehensive birth control services, abortion, or referrals for abortion.
· The definition is clearly crafted to only all pregnancy resource centers and medical clinics.
The bill sets up new regulations for PRCs and PRMCs as follows:
· “Limited service” pregnancy centers must disclose:
o That the center does not provide abortion or comprehensive birth control services
o That the center does not provide referrals for abortion or comprehensive birth control services
o That the center does not provide medical care for pregnant women (This bill has the absurd result that would force PRMCs that do provide medical services to state that they do not provide medical services.)
· The disclosure must be verbally, on the first contact, and in writing with the following specific requirements:
o 30 point font or larger in English, Spanish, Vietnamese, Cambodian, Laotian, Chinese, and any other frequently spoken languages in that county.
o Posted at the entry door inside the building to be clearly visible during intake.
o Clearly visible on the website’s home page in all the above languages.
o In any advertisement or notice promoting the center’s services, again in all the above languages.
Pregnancy Test Requirements:
· The bill requires persons be informed that the urine dipstick test is an over-the-counter product and the person may self-test if desired.
· Written pregnancy test results must be made available to each person immediately after the test is completed. Such results must be in writing and in all the languages required.
· The center must make recorded health care information available upon the request of their client within 15 working days.
The bill authorizes any “aggrieved” person to bring a civil action against a Center in Superior Court and award the grievant treble damages and costs, including attorneys fees. In addition, the Court can also award a civil fine of not more than $1,000 to be paid to the grievant.
NIFLA believes that this bill violates several basic constitutional provisions as follows:
· Violates the Equal Protection Clause in that it applies unequally based on ideology: the bill singles out pro-life PRCs for regulation in this manner and specifically excludes agencies such as Planned Parenthood and other abortion promoting agencies.
· Violates the First Amendment: the bill regulates PRCs because of their position on abortion and their refusal to speak in one way – to provide an abortion or birth control referral. Such regulation of only one side of the debate explicitly for this reason may be viewpoint discrimination in violation of the First Amendment.
· Violates the First Amendment by promoting view-point based compelling speech. Most PRCs and PRMcs have a religious charter, and hence, are unlikely to promote reproductive health materials that undermine their religious teachings. This would put them in violation of this Act.
· Violates federal (and state) conscience clause protections of doctors and other medical professionals.
· The bill may apply to churches and other faith-based ministries other than PRCs – including those that provide post-abortion counseling, church ministries that serve pregnant women, etc. This may raise additional Establishment and Free Exercise Clause concerns.
This bill is one of the worst we have seen. The provision that allows any “aggrieved” person to sue a PRC for alleged violations is contrary to foundational principles of the civil law, which require that one must suffer damages, either monetarily or physically, before they have standing to bring a law suit. An “aggrieved” person is not one who suffers damages but rather is any person offended by the work of PRCs and PRMCs, i.e. an abortion-rights activist. Such a provision would put every PRC and PRMC in Washington at risk and subject to harassing law suits that would financially drain the center and possibly put them out of business.
While we have soundly defeated these anti-PRC bills at the state level over the years, there is legitimate concern that this bill may be ripe to pass the Washington State Legislature and become law. The first hearing on this bill is scheduled for January 24, 2011 – the day of the annual March for Life in Washington D.C. As the nation raises it’s voice for the unborn and their mothers, the PRCs and PRMCs will be defending themselves in the State of Washington. Keep us in your prayers.
LifeNews.com Note: Tom Glessner is a pro-life attorney who is the president of NIFLA, the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates. NIFLA is an organization with more than 1,200 affiliated pregnancy centers that provides legal, medical and practical help for pregnancy centers across the country.