UPDATE, September 24, 4:44 p.m.: A federal district court last week ruled against Hawaii’s law regulating anti-choice pregnancy centers, citing the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in NIFLA vs. Becerra.
A Hawaii crisis pregnancy center (CPC) and a prominent anti-choice group are suing in federal court to block a new state law requiring anti-abortion clinics inform pregnant people of the availability of comprehensive family planning services.
A Place for Women in Waipio, a crisis pregnancy center, or fake clinic, and National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA) claim the law violates the facilities’ First Amendment rights to free speech and free exercise of religion, according to a complaint filed last week.
A young pregnant woman was forced to send A Place for Women in Waipio a cease-and-desist letter to stop a clinic staff member from disclosing her personal information, as Rewire reported. After Morgen Trube visited A Place for Women for a free pregnancy test, a staff member at the facility offered Trube’s patient forms to Hawaii lawmakers. Trube testified in favor of the Hawaii legislation, and staff at A Place for Women argued that Trube hadn’t complained about the clinic at the time of her visit.
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The Hawaii law requires “limited service pregnancy centers,” a category that includes fake clinics, to abide by state and federal patient privacy laws and provide information about state programs offering free and low-cost family planning services. Violators face fines of $500 for a first offense and $1,000 thereafter.
The Hawaii law is similar to a 2015 California crisis pregnancy center regulation that was found constitutional by a federal appellate panel. But the Hawaii measure goes a step further by giving pregnant people the right to sue fake clinics for up to $1,000 in damages. The law is also unique in addressing a reported issue with fake clinics: inaccurate ultrasounds performed by unqualified staff. In one case in California, a fake clinic staffer mistook an IUD for a fetus. The Hawaii law requires fake clinics to disclose to patients that “only ultrasounds performed by qualified healthcare professionals and read by licensed clinicians should be considered medical accurate.”
Hawaii’s Gov. David Ige (D) signed the measure last week after it cleared the state’s Democratic-majority legislature.
Laurie Field, Hawaii public affairs manager at Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest and Hawaii, said pregnant people who visit fake clinics are “walking into a trap.”
“Thankfully, our elected officials recognized this and, in passing this law, ensured that everyone has access to accurate and private information about their bodies and their health care,” Field said in a statement.
State Sen. Laura Thielen (D), part of the Hawaii Women’s Legislative Caucus, which submitted the legislation, said it was prompted by local reports of CPC staff sharing pregnant people’s personal information with outside parties.
“We think we need some more investigation into what’s going on at the centers,” Thielen told Rewire earlier this year.
The measure was controversial, pitting health-care providers, who contend that fake clinics peddle anti-choice misinformation, against religious groups that argue the facilities are an exercise of their faith.
Fake clinics are typically religiously run nonprofits. Their staff are known to peddle mistruths and engage in moral arm-twisting to discourage people from ending their pregnancies. Peer-reviewed research and both federal and independent investigations have caught CPC staff dispensing unscientific information on the risks of abortion care.
In Hawaii, three “medical” and two non-medical fake clinics are members of NIFLA, according to the complaint. NIFLA was involved in at least one lawsuit brought to quash the California law, and in a suit to stop a similar measure in Illinois.
NIFLA’s president called the Hawaii measure a “bully bill” and said in a statement they expect to prevail before the U.S. Supreme Court.