California Governor Jerry Brown signed the Reproductive Fact ACT into law Friday, which requires anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centers to post signs disclosing to their patients if they are medically licensed, and informing them the state provides low-cost family planning, abortion services and prenatal care. On Saturday, two anti-abortion clinics sued the attorney general, arguing their free speech rights are being violated.
The Reproductive Fact Act, first introduced to the Assembly in May, requires medically licensed facilities who primarily provide family planning or “pregnancy-related services’” to post signs with this wording:
“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].”
The idea is to inform anyone who’s wound up in an anti-abortion clinic that provides basical medical services like ultrasounds that they have other options. Medically unlicensed facilities have to post this one:
“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.”
Given how many unlicensed anti-abortion facilities provide over-the-counter pregnancy tests, sonograms out of vans in the parking lot, and other services designed to look like medical care, that seems like a solid plan.
Nonetheless, on Saturday, two anti-abortion clinics sued California Attorney General Kamala Harris, arguing that the signs violate their First Amendment rights. A Woman’s Friend Pregnancy Resource Clinic in Marysville and Crisis Pregnancy Center of Northern California in Redding are both licensed by the state and provide basic services like pregnancy tests and sonograms.
Crisis Pregnancy Center of Northern California is run by an anti-abortion group called CareNet, a group that’s very careful not to directly disclose they don’t provide abortions. Their abortion information page begins like this:
Care Net Pregnancy Center understands that all women have freedom of choice. But, wise choices cannot be made unless all the options and risks are considered.
We find that a large number of our clients don’t understand what’s happening to their bodies or their developing baby. Clients don’t know what types of abortions are performed, what will be done to their bodies or the risks associated with abortion procedures.
Our staff and volunteers take the time to explain all abortion procedures so that the client can truly make an informed decision about what she wants for herself and her unborn child.
It adds that Abortion Is Bad: “Abortion is not just a simple procedure; it may have many side effects. Abortion has been associated with preterm birth, emotion and psychological impact, and spiritual consequences.”
Similarly, A Woman’s Friend claims to provide “abortion education,” although they do disclose at the bottom of the page that they don’t provide or refer for abortion services.
Both businesses argue in their lawsuit that the new law is unconstitutional. According to the Sacramento Bee, they argue that the law, “at minimum... unconstitutionally compels (the clinics) to speak messages that they have not chosen, with which they do not agree, and that distract, and detract from, the messages they have chosen to speak.”
They add, too, that the “mandated state message” is “inconsistent with plaintiffs’ religious convictions.”
That argument worked in Austin, Texas, where a similar signage law was struck down in 2014. Another one was upheld in New York City, although the State Supreme Court threw out a provision making the clinics state directly whether they provide abortions.
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California Attorney General Kamala Harris. Photo via AP Images