A flurry of lawsuits were filed this week to block a new California law that cracks down on deceptive practices by anti-abortion centers that pretend to be clinics and reproductive rights counseling facilities.
Assembly Bill 775, signed by Governor Brown a week ago, requires licensed anti-abortion facilities to tell patients about the availability of birth control, abortion and prenatal care. If they aren’t licensed, they have to say so and let patients know about the things they don’t offer. It is the first such law in the nation.
One lawsuit says the government is trying to compel them to disseminate its message to the clinic’s clients about “the availability of free or low-cost abortions and directs them to a place that facilitates the process.” The so-called crisis pregnancy centers (CPC) don’t want to put a notice on the wall, hand out flyers to clients or send them an electronic warning about any options other than the ones they are presenting.
The other lawsuits are said to be similar. They claim religious beliefs and moral convictions as the basis for their position and argue that AB 775 compels them to violate foundational principles.
The law was passed in response to a steady stream of complaints stretching back 15 years about CPCs, which are all too often mistaken for clinics providing abortion and reproductive rights counseling.
A report (pdf) from NARAL Pro-Choice America, which visited 49 of the 160 centers in California, found that 69% advertise their counseling as unbiased. But about 90% are operated by three anti-choice groups: Care Net, Heartbeat International and National Institute of Family and Life Advocates.
Investigators found that 85% of the centers misled women to believe that abortion is traumatic and dangerous. Ninety-one percent said “abortion was linked to breast cancer, infertility, miscarriage or suicide.” Seventy-two percent “claimed abortion was linked to a false ‘post-abortion depression.’ ”
Instead of trying to conjure up a law to stop CPC employees from making untrue pronouncements, lawmakers opted to add a few informed words from the state.
“This new law is a clear violation of the first amendment right of free speech,” Pacific Justice Institute (PJI) President Brad Dacaus told BuzzFeed. PJI represents some of the parties suing. He said it “is the equivalent of making Alcoholics Anonymous post a large sign stating where members get free alcohol.”