Reproductive rights advocates who hailed the enactment of California’s landmark crisis pregnancy center (CPC) regulation at the start of this year now find themselves cast in the new role of enforcement agents.
The state’s Reproductive Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care, and Transparency (FACT) Act requires, in the most basic terms, the state’s licensed CPCs to post a short notice about the availability of birth control and abortion care. Violators face civil penalties of $500.
Responsibility for enforcing the law falls squarely on the state attorney general, city attorneys, and county counsels. But some cities and counties are being sued by groups of CPCs that aim to block the law. And some attorneys for local governments are reportedly bargaining with CPCs to be dropped from the lawsuits in return for temporarily agreeing not to enforce the law.
Three advocacy organizations—NARAL Pro-Choice California, UltraViolet, and Courage Campaign—announced Tuesday that they will turn over petitions bearing 25,000 signatures that call on local authorities to take action. The petitions are being delivered to authorities in San Diego, Monterey, Nevada, and Humboldt counties—locales where reported “deals” are being hammered out.
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Rebecca Griffin, assistant director of California Programs for NARAL Pro-Choice California, said the organization hasn’t heard of a single case of the law being enforced since it took effect January 1.
The anti-choice activists who run CPCs have long trumpeted their plans to ignore the state legislation, calling it a bully bill. They have filed five lawsuits in federal and county jurisdictions up and down the state to stop it.
“I will not post that notice in our clinic,” Scott Scharpen, a pastor who operates a mobile CPC, said in a statement last year. “I would rather close the clinic than post that notice.”
Attorney Michael Colantuono, who represents the Northern California City of Grass Valley, reportedly told the Union that six local governments are considering not enforcing the law, “in exchange for the plaintiffs’ agreement to dismiss them from the case.”
Other local authorities, meanwhile, are punting enforcement duties to the state.
Thomas Bunton, attorney for the County of San Diego and a lawsuit defendant, indicated in court filings that the county would not enforce the law, and said any enforcement would most likely come from the state—meaning the attorney general.
But a spokeswoman from the office of state Attorney General Kamala Harris, who co-sponsored the legislation, said in an email to Rewire Monday that enforcement of individual cases of noncompliance would be left primarily to local authorities.
Multiple reports describing how CPCs mislead and outright lie to pregnant people helped spur the legislation’s passage last year. Gov. Jerry Brown (D) signed the FACT Act into law October 9, after it cleared the Democratic-led legislature. Some 80 percent of likely Golden State voters polled by Tulchin Research in August 2015 said they support the disclosure requirement.
Amy Everitt, state director of NARAL Pro-Choice California, said in a statement Tuesday that Californians’ reproductive health “shouldn’t be subject to the whims of extremist anti-choice organizations and their rabid lawyers.”
She said that city and county attorneys in the state have a responsibility to make sure residents receive unbiased information about their reproductive health-care options.
NARAL, meanwhile, has begun training a team of volunteers who will check whether CPCs are complying. Griffin said they have discovered two Sacramento-area CPCs that weren’t following the law, and notified the Sacramento city attorney and county counsel on March 10.
“We’re kind of handing this to them on a platter,” Griffin told Rewire. “We’re making it very easy for them” to enforce the law.
Griffin said the organization sent letters in mid-February to authorities in 58 counties and 48 cities across the state encouraging them to take action. They have yet to receive a response.
Nita Chaudhary, co-founder of the women’s rights group UltraViolet, noted in a statement on Tuesday, that the popular reform law, which is meant to protect patients, “means virtually nothing if California’s government officials do not enforce it.”
She called on elected leaders to hold CPCs accountable. “The people of California have spoken,” she said, “and we will not allow these extremists to continue forcing their antiquated, misogynistic values onto the women of California.”