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California pregnancy centers sue to block abortion information law

Crisis pregnancy centers are suing to block a new California law requiring them to provide information about abortions

Crisis pregnancy centers that discourage women from getting abortions are suing to block a new law that would make California the first state to require them to provide information about abortions.

A federal civil rights lawsuit against the California attorney general's office was filed Saturday in Sacramento on behalf of two of the nonprofit centers, the Sacramento Bee reported on Monday. Both facilities are church-affiliated.

The lawsuit contends the bill signed Friday by Gov. Jerry Brown violates the constitutional rights of freedom of speech and religion. It names Kamala Harris, the state’s attorney general, and seeks a court injunction to stop the measure from taking effect in January.

The lawsuit was filed by the Pacific Justice Institute, (PJI) which announced the weekend filing on Monday. The conservative, nonprofit legal organization in Sacramento, the state capital, filed on the suit on behalf of A Woman's Friend Pregnancy Resource Clinic in Marysville and Crisis Pregnancy Center of Northern California in Redding. Both facilities offer free pregnancy testing and consultations. They do not offer or refer for abortions.

​"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,” said Brad Dacus, PJI president in a release.  

The Reproductive Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care and Transparency (FACT) Act is the first time statewide requirements have been set forth for crisis pregnancy centers, which often are often run by religiously affiliated groups that discourage women from getting abortions. Cities and counties have passed similar regulations but passage remains difficult at the state level; a similar bill is stalled in New York, reports Mother Jones.

Written by Assemblymembers David Chiu (D-San Francisco) and Autumn Burke (D-Los Angeles), the FACT Act requires that unlicensed facilities that provide pregnancy-related services disclose that they are not licensed medical providers. There are close to 170 such centers in California, according to a report (PDF) by the abortion-rights group NARAL, which contends they exist mainly to coerce women into continuing their pregnancies.

The measure also requires the centers to notify patients that California has programs to help them access affordable family planning, abortion services and prenatal care.

“The law goes so far as to require these pro-life clinics to give out the telephone number and address to women who come through their doors,” according to the PJI release.

If they do not, the new law will subject violators to a $500 civil penalty for a first offense, and a $1,000 penalty for each following offense, the Bee reported.

Harris co-sponsored the law, which passed the state assembly with a 49-26 vote in May and issued a release stating she was proud of her role when Brown signed the bill on Friday.

At the same time, Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, said in a statement, "Anti-choice crisis pregnancy centers are ground-zero in the fight for reproductive freedom, and Gov. Brown and the California legislature can be proud of leading the first successful statewide effort to ensure that no woman is tricked into walking through doors of a CPC to be manipulated and shamed again.”

On Monday, in response to the lawsuit suing her as a co-sponsor, Harris vowed to defend the FACT Act. "We will vigorously defend the state law in court," Harris spokeswoman Kristin Ford said in a statement.

Backers of the law argued it was crafted to address concerns raised by courts elsewhere, which have blocked some local attempts to require centers to disclose information about whether they provide referrals for abortion, emergency contraception or prenatal care.

"The fact of the matter is it's a simple bill,” said Nourbese Flint of Black Women for Wellness, one of the bill’s sponsors, in a statement released by Chiu’s office in September. “We trust women to make the best decisions."

Al Jazeera with The Associated Press


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