SACRAMENTO — California’s Assembly passed a measure May 26 that pro-life advocates say violates the constitutional rights of the state’s crisis pregnancy centers.
If passed in the state Senate, the bill would compel all medically licensed pregnancy centers to inform their clients that California offers state-funded reproductive health services, including abortion. The sign would include a phone number for women to access those services. If a pregnancy center is not licensed, the law would require a notice stating it doesn’t have state approval.
“AB 775 is an effort to force objectionable, state-mandated speech on pro-life pregnancy care centers,” said bill opponent Assemblyman Jim Patterson, a Republican. “Privately-funded pregnancy resource centers, and the compassionate people who volunteer at them, have a First Amendment right to freedom of speech.”
Officially titled the Reproductive FACT Act, the bill advanced out of the Assembly by a 46-25 vote almost entirely along party lines, said Jay Hobbs, Heartbeat International’s communications director. Heartbeat International has at least 69 affiliates in California, including pregnancy centers, non-profit adoption agencies, and maternity homes.
And because Democrats control the state Senate with a 25-14 majority, Hobbs foresees the bill passing. But he expects a legal challenge.
“We’re confident that this bill going into effect will at least be delayed because of that,” Hobbs said.
And previous court precedent favors pregnancy centers. In January 2014, a federal court struck down most of a similar law in New York City. Another court struck down a similar law in Austin, Texas, five months later. And most recently, a federal court struck down a law passed in Montgomery County, Md., because the government failed to provide evidence that pregnancy centers harmed or mislead women.
Pro-life advocates have dubbed the California legislation the “Bully Bill.” Its advocates claim it prevents pregnancy centers from disseminating misinformation based on a NARAL Pro-Choice California report. But Assemblyman James Gallagher, a Republican, said the report provided “zero source documentation … no videotapes, no recording, pure hearsay.”
And though co-sponsor Assemblyman David Chiu contends the bill’s notice requirement doesn’t constitute an abortion referral, Heartbeat International vice president Jor-El Godsey disagrees.
“Every woman should have all the information she needs to care for herself and her family during an unexpected pregnancy,” Godsey said. “The issue with this bill is that it does—despite its authors’ assertions to the contrary—trample on the First Amendment rights of locally funded grassroots organizations, while forcing these organizations to effectively refer for abortions.”
And California isn’t the only state considering legislation that could violate pregnancy centers’ rights. The Illinois legislature is considering an amendment to the state’s Health Care Right of Conscience Act that would require providers to refer patients to others who do offer abortion referrals. The Senate passed the bill in April.
If the measures in California and Illinois pass, Hobbs said pregnancy centers will face a difficult choice: “We’re going to see centers [making] the decision between setting their conscience aside … or not complying with these unjust laws.”
— by Courtney Crandell