News Law and Policy

California Requires Crisis Pregnancy Centers to Tell the Truth

Teddy Wilson

The Reproductive Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care and Transparency Act would require licensed clinics that provide family planning or pregnancy-related services to provide a notice to consumers regarding their reproductive rights.

California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) signed a bill Friday that would require crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) to offer pregnant people information about state programs providing reproductive health-care services, including abortion.

CPC groups reacted to the new law, which is scheduled to take effect on January 1, by filing a lawsuit Saturday to block the measure, reported the Sacramento Bee.

AB 775, known as the Reproductive Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care and Transparency Act, would require licensed clinics that provide family planning or pregnancy-related services to provide a notice to consumers regarding their reproductive rights.

The legislation targets CPCs, requiring them to inform patients that California has public programs that provide immediate and free or low-cost access to comprehensive family planning services, prenatal care, and abortion, for eligible women.

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The bill would also require CPCs without medical licenses that advertise and provide pregnancy testing and care to post a notice saying they have neither a license nor licensed providers on staff. CPCs, supported by anti-choice lawmakers on the state and federal levels, have been found to dole out misinformation about abortion. They are often staffed by people dressed in lab coats offering medical advice to pregnant women.

There are more than 300 CPCs in California, according to the Heartbeat International directory.

Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, said in a statement that CPCs are “ground-zero” in the fight for reproductive freedom.

“Gov. Brown and the California legislature can be proud of leading the first successful statewide effort to ensure that no woman is tricked into walking through doors of a CPC to be manipulated and shamed again,” Hogue said. “This is the kind of change that 7 in 10 Americans have been clamoring for—to expand access, not reduce it.”

NARAL Pro-Choice California last year sent undercover investigators into CPCs to document common practices. A report released in March found that CPCs strategically misinform and deceive pregnant people, always with the same underlying message: bring the pregnancy to term.

Ninety-one percent of centers visited by NARAL doled out misinformation about the effects of abortion on a person’s physical and mental health, saying that having an abortion would increase the risk of breast cancer, infertility, miscarriage, and/or depression that results in suicide.

“She told me that for some women, [abortion clinics] dilate them too fast and they might miscarry a lot because the cervix might not close up all the way,” said one investigator, whose name was concealed. “So I might have a lot of miscarriages if I aborted the baby.”

In another instance, a CPC employee mistook an investigator’s intrauterine device (IUD) for a fetus during an ultrasound, telling the investigator that it was “her baby.” CPC employees told undercover investigators that going through with an induced abortion is unnecessary, because the chance of a spontaneous abortion, or miscarriage, is 30-50 percent.

The lawsuit filed by the Pacific Justice Institute on behalf of two religiously affiliated CPCs, the Woman’s Friend Pregnancy Resource Clinic in Marysville and Crisis Pregnancy Center of Northern California in Redding, claims that the law violates the organizations’ First Amendment rights.

The Pacific Justice Institute is a nonprofit organization that provides legal representation for conservative and religious organizations. The Southern Poverty Law Center has designated the institute as an anti-LGBTQ hate group.

The complaint states that the law “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.”

The bill was passed with large majorities in the Democratic-led California legislature. The senate passed the bill in September with a 24-14 vote, and the assembly approved the bill in May with a 49-26 vote.

Assemblywoman Autumn Burke (D-Inglewood), one of the bill’s co-sponsors, told the Sacramento Bee that bill is about ensuring women are fully informed of all of their reproductive health-care options, regardless of where they seek that information.

“It’s hard to understand how those who claim to care about women find it so threatening to inform them about accessing affordable health care,” Burke said.

Opponents of the legislation have claimed that it is intended to “bully” CPCs and that it infringes on freedom of speech and religious liberty.

“You may not like the message that these people are putting forward, you may not like what they have to say, but they have every right under our Constitution for freedom of speech just like anyone else,” said Assemblywoman Shannon Grove (R-Bakersfield), reported the Sacramento Bee.

A coalition of more than 100 religious leaders signed a letter supporting the bill, and encouraging Brown to sign the bill.

Sara Hutchinson Ratcliffe, domestic program director for Catholics for Choice, wrote that the legislation does not violate religious freedom. “It respects the definition of religious freedom—freedom of and freedom from—by allowing women of every faith, and women of no faith, in California to access affordable health care,” Ratcliffe wrote.

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