California pregnancy centers fight new abortion-referral mandate
by Kiley Crossland
Posted 10/14/15, 08:18 am
Two suits filed Saturday in California federal courts claim a new state law violates pro-life pregnancy centers’ constitutional rights by mandating the centers tell clients about abortion.
The law, signed by California Gov. Jerry Brown on Friday and set to take effect in January, forces private religious pregnancy centers to inform every women entering their doors about state-sponsored public programs providing immediate and free abortions for qualifying women. Under the law, centers are required to provide a phone number where clients can get more information about abortion services.
The law, the first statewide measure of its kind, passed easily along party lines in California’s Democratic-controlled Assembly and Senate. But pregnancy centers who challenged similar laws in counties and cities across the country have legal precedent on their side. In recent court battles in Texas, Maryland, and New York, courts eventually struck down comparable laws and defended pregnancy centers’ rights to free speech.
But supporters of California’s new law say they crafted it to specifically address questions raised by court decisions elsewhere.
“The California legislature is so far left that it is delusional about reality,” said Brad Dacus, president of the Pacific Justice Institute (PJI), the organization that filed the suits. Legislators are not aware of the strength of the U.S. Constitution and specifically of First Amendment rights, he said.
PJI filed the lawsuits in federal courts in both southern and northern California. The organization is representing A Woman’s Friend Pregnancy Resource Clinic in Marysville and Crisis Pregnancy Center of Northern California in Redding. Both clinics provide free medical services and counseling to women facing unplanned pregnancies.
Supporters of the act argue pregnancy centers that choose not to refer for abortions provide incomplete information to women and exist to coerce women into continuing their pregnancies.
“A growing and alarming movement is working to mislead women in order to achieve their political ideology,” said bill-sponsor Assemblyman David Chiu, D-San Francisco, in a statement.
But opponents note the private religious centers have a right to say things that align with their religious beliefs.
“Does the government have a right to tell a newspaper what to write, a preacher what to preach, a private school what to teach? Of course not,” said Assemblywoman Shannon Grove, R-Bakersfield, in arguing against the bill. “So why is it OK for the government to force pro-life pregnancy centers against their will to advertise and promote government abortion services?”
Dacus notes that even though PJI is dealing with the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, a traditionally liberal federal district, he believes in the end the courts will see the law for what it is.
“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 the free exercise clauses of the First Amendment to the Constitution,” he said. “We will not rest until this government mandate is completely halted.”
PJI’s complaint seeks an immediate court injunction to stop the law from taking effect in January.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.