A new law has officially put the future of all California pro-life pregnancy care clinics in jeopardy.
On January 1, 2016 Governor Jerry Brown enforced the Reproductive FACT (Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care, and Transparency) Act. This act requires all pro-life California licensed pregnancy care facilities to notify each of their clients about the public programs available to perform immediate free or low-cost abortions. The law also requires unlicensed facilities to provide a notice to to all clients “that the facility is not licensed as a medical facility by the State of California.”
The controversy of this issue lies in the first portion of the law, which requires pro-life facilities to offer something in which they do not support.
Following this decision, many have taken to social media to express their support or disapproval regarding this new law. While some believe this law will require crisis pregnancy center’s to “be honest” with their clients, others are upset that the organizations are being “forced to advertise abortion.”
Kailyn Huckabey, the Community Relations Coordinator of the pro-life facility Women’s Pregnancy Care Clinic, shared the organizations feelings about the new change.
“[We] feel that AB-775 is a direct violation of our First Amendment right by impending our exercise of religion and restraining our freedom of speech, the government is forcing us to ‘speak’ something that is against our religious values.”
Dissimilarly, former Planned Parenthood employee, Mary Medina, does not feel that there is anything wrong with law, stating “I don’t think its wrong. It gives a woman another option, it is not something you walk in to thinking ‘Is this all I get?’”
The new law requires licensed covered facilities to provide clients with the following notice:
“California has public programs that provide immediate free or low-cost access to comprehensive family planning services (including 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].”
For clinics such as WPCC, this situation becomes complex. Within their offices, women seeking professional help are assigned to a patient advocate. The patient advocate helps the woman walk through their decisions and their options regarding her pregnancy, making sure that she feels cared for, loved, and capable of deciding for herself what she would like to do. Because the organization is based on Christian values, carrying the pregnancy to full term is always encouraged. However, if the woman would like to receive an abortion she is able to do so at a pro-choice facility and return back to the WPCC office for after-abortion counseling.
What makes Governor Brown’s new law so difficult for the pro-life facilities is that it goes against their personal beliefs and the beliefs of the organizations by requiring them to also provide clients the information needed to get an abortion, something they do not support nor offer in their facility.
If an organization does not provide its clients with the notification, failure to comply will result in hefty fines.
According to the bill, section 123473 (a) “Covered facilities that fail to comply with the requirements of this article are liable for a civil penalty of five hundred dollars ($500) for the first offense and one thousand dollars ($1,000) for each subsequent offense.”
For many organizations, these fines could very quickly cause the organizations to go out of business entirely.
“Most of these clinics will not be able to afford these fines. Over just a few months, fines could rack up to $10,000 or more. This is a huge expense that could potentially force these clinics into foreclosure,” stated Huckabey.
As pro-life facilities become fearful of their future, four lawsuits were filed to challenge Governor Brown’s decision.
In October of 2015, the American Center for Law and Justice filed the first lawsuit against
the California Attorney General and other local officials. The lawsuit represented three pro-life crisis pregnancy centers in the Northern District of California including: LivingWell Medical Clinic, Inc., Pregnancy Care Center of the North Coast, Inc., and Confidence Pregnancy Care Center, Inc.
In the lawsuit filed, the plaintiff’s argued that the decision made by Governor Brown conflicts with the plaintiffs’ Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Assembly, Freedom of Religion, and State Constitutional Rights.
The law suit stated, “the act unconstitutionally compels Plaintiffs to speak messages they have not chosen for themselves, with which they do not agree, and that detract from, undermine, and interfere with messages they have chosen to speak.”
In December, the ACLJ’s efforts were denied by Federal District Court Judge Jeffery White.
During the same time the Pacific Justice Institute filed the second lawsuit in support of A Woman’s Friend Pregnancy Resource Clinic and Crisis Pregnancy Center of Northern California. The lawsuit argued the same Constitutional rights of Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Religion.
In a press release given by Pacific Justice Institute, Brad Dacus, president of the PJI stated,
“Forcing a religious pro-life charity to proclaim a pro-abortion declaration is on its face an egregious violation of both the free speech and free exercise clauses of the First Amendment to the Constitution. We will not rest until this government mandate is completely halted.”
In December 2015, U.S District Judge, Kimberly Mueller, denied their efforts stating that the “interests of the clinics in refusing to promote abortion were outweighed by the interests of the State to ensure women receive information about all their options.”
Following the second lawsuit, was the third lawsuit filed by Advocates for Faith & Freedom. In their lawsuit, they argued the same infringements of rights. However, the courts ruled against their lawsuit as well.
In a blog post submitted by Advocates for Faith & Freedom they expressed their disappointment stating, “This is an outrage and we won’t surrender our free speech to a culture of death.”
Following their statement, they submitted an appeal against the federal and state court decisions.
The fourth and final lawsuit was filed by the Alliance Defending Freedom and represented National Institute of Family and Life Advocates, Pregnancy Care Center, Pregnancy Care Clinic, and Fallbrook Pregnancy Resource Center.
While this lawsuit did also argue Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Religion, it also included the Violation of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and Violation of the Coats-Snowe Amendment.
In late January, the fourth and final lawsuit was turned down by the court officials.
As of January 1, 2016 the law is now in effect and requires all pro-life pregnancy care clinics to notify their clients of the abortion options available to them, by providing them with the phone number to the county social services office.
Those in support of the new law feel that this is a positive ruling, as it now requires pro-life facilities to be honest about women’s options by allowing them to know what is also available to them.
When asked if this will create a more honest environment for the women who chose to go to pro-life facilities, Huckabey responded by stating “Our medical team does not manipulate women into making a decision…most of these women seeking this information has access to the Internet to know their options. When they walk into WPCC we notify them that we are not an abortion clinic. I don’t feel that we are misinforming our patients about their options.”
While many pro-life clinics are dissatisfied with the official court ruling, failure to abide by the new law could result in extreme fines and the potential of foreclosure.
As the pro-life facilities continue forward with their business, organizations such as American Center for Law and Justice as well as the Pacific Justice Institute have vowed to not give up the fight. Moving forward, they plan to revisit this issue with the Supreme Court in the near future.