Anti-abortion clinics, commonly known as crisis pregnancy centers (CPC) or fake clinics, would have to safeguard patients’ privacy and inform patients how to find comprehensive family planning services under twin bills in the Hawaii legislature.
The bills, like a similar California law, would require “limited service pregnancy centers,” a category that includes fake clinics, to display the following information in a conspicuous area, such as in the waiting room or on patient intake forms:
Hawaii 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 appropriate Med-QUEST division eligibility office.
SB 501 and HB 663 would bar the facilities from disclosing “individually identifiable health information to any other person, entity, or organization without express written authorization from the subject individual.” The centers must hand over medical records at a patient’s request under the measures. Violators would face civil penalties of up to $1,000.
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Democrats hold overwhelming majorities in both chambers of the Hawaii legislature.
State Sen. Laura Thielen, part of the Hawaii Women’s Legislative Caucus, which submitted the bills, said the legislation came amid reports that local pregnancy centers were sharing patient information with other parties.
In one case, after a woman had a pregnancy test at a fake clinic, Thielen said the facility “without her consent or knowledge” provided her information to another organization that sent the woman anti-abortion emails.
“We had people who were testifying that they could not get copies of their medical records,” Thielen told Rewire by phone. “We want to make sure our medical privacy laws are applying to them.”
A federal patient privacy rule bars the disclosure of “individually identifiable health information” without written consent. The rule generally applies to providers that transmit electronic records.
Fake clinics are typically religiously run nonprofits that offer free services, such as pregnancy tests and ultrasounds, and have been found to lure pregnant people with deceptive ads that suggest they offer abortion services, when they do not. Federal and independent investigations have caught fake clinic staff lying about the so-called risks of abortion care.
Hawaii has around a half-dozen fake clinics, according to a geo-targeted Google search.
“We think we need some more investigation into what’s going on at the centers,” Thielen told Rewire.
The bills have pitted health-care providers, who contend that fake clinics peddle anti-choice ideology, against religious groups who argue the facilities are an exercise of their faith.
A local doctor who testified in support of the legislation described how a local fake clinic coerced a pregnant patient who had been raped.
“Instead of offering her referrals for sexually transmitted disease testing, emergency contraception, and rape survivors’ counseling, she was subjected to a ‘counseling session’ on why she should not have an abortion,” said Ghazaleh Moayedi, an OB-GYN at the University of Hawaii John A. Burns School of Medicine. “This purported health center re-traumatized my patient.”
The Hawaii Section of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, which represents more than 200 OB-GYNs in the state, told lawmakers in written testimony that CPCs provide medically inaccurate information, allow unlicensed and unqualified staff to perform medical exams, and delay critical time-sensitive healthcare.
The legislation cleared the Senate committees on Commerce, Consumer Protection and Health and Judiciary and Labor on February 3 and the House Committee on Health on Tuesday. Democrats control the House, the Senate, and the governor’s office.
Multiple religious groups and CPCs have voiced opposition to the bills.
“Why in the world should we be required to provide information on how and where to receive abortions?” said Tracey Whitehurst of Aloha Pregnancy Care and Counseling Center, a CPC. “We are there to help people choose life for their babies, not to tell them where they can go to have those babies killed.”
Others advised lawmakers to wait on the outcome of a legal challenge to a similar law in California, AB 775.
California’s Democratic-controlled legislature passed AB 775 in 2015 following reports of fake clinics’ coercive tactics. The law, which went into effect January 1, 2016, requires the state’s licensed CPCs to post a brief notice about government programs that offer birth control and abortion, and for unlicensed centers to disclose that they’re not medical facilities.
Multiple fake clinics in the California swiftly sued, unsuccessfully arguing AB 775 violated their constitutional right to freedom of speech and free exercise of religion. Last fall, a three-judge panel of Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco rejected the centers’ free speech and free exercise claims, holding that AB 775 was neutral.
Attorneys representing California fake clinics have appealed the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.