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A federal judge has rejected a challenge to a California law (AB 775) that aims to prohibit antiabortion-rights crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) from spreading misinformation, Courthouse News Service reports.
According to CNS, the law took effect Jan. 1 (Bruno, Courthouse News Service, 2/12).
Gov. Jerry Brown (D) signed AB 775 in October 2015. The law, which was introduced by Assembly members David Chiu (D) and Autumn Burke (D), expands protections in a 2011 San Francisco ordinance (212-11) that bars CPCs from disseminating misleading information.
The legislation requires licensed facilities that provide services related to pregnancy and family planning to let women know how and where they could access affordable and timely abortion, contraception and prenatal care services.
Further, the legislation requires unlicensed facilities that provide pregnancy- and family planning-related services to tell patients the facilities are not licensed and that they have no staff members who are licensed providers. Such facilities will be required to disseminate a notice to patients at the facility and in any digital or print advertising materials stating, “This facility is not licensed as a medical facility by the State of California and has no licensed medical provider who provides or directly supervises the provision of services.”
CPCs that do not comply with the law will be subject to a $500 fine for the first offense and a $1,000 penalty for any offense thereafter. The state attorney general, county councils and city attorneys will have the authority to enforce the law.
U.S. District Judge Kimberly Mueller upheld the law in a legal challenge from CPCs in December 2015. Mueller rejected the plaintiffs’ argument that the law violates the CPC’s right to free speech. A separate ruling by a federal judge in Oakland, California, also upheld the state law (Women’s Health Policy Report, 12/23/15).
Three CPCs — the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates, Pregnancy Care Center and Fallbrook Pregnancy Resource Center — challenged the law in federal court in Southern California.
The groups asked the court to block city, county and state officials from enforcing the law, which the CPCs contended violated their freedom of speech and religion. Specifically, the lawsuit asked the court to block enforcement of the law by the governor, California Attorney General Kamala Harris (D), San Diego County Counsel Thomas Montgomery and El Cajon, California, City Attorney Morgan Foley.
According to District Judge John Houston’s order, San Diego County officials contended that CPCs cannot claim loss of constitutional rights, saying the CPCs do not plan to follow the law and thus cannot claim to be harmed by it. Further, San Diego County and El Cajon officials sought to be dismissed from the case because neither had created the state law.
State officials said the complaint is not ripe for review. They said the CPCs’ complaint did not identify a “concrete plan” to violate the act and “fails to allege a genuine threat of imminent prosecution.” According to the state, the CPCs’ effort “to catch all potential defendants” instead of suing a specific entity shows that they lack a credible threat of injury. According to Houston, the state also noted that the law does not prohibit the CPCs from disseminating antiabortion-rights information; rather, the law only requires that the CPCs disclose to women the full range of reproductive health care options.
Houston ruled that the CPCs did have a plan to violate the act, but he refused to block officials from enforcing the law. In his ruling, Houston agreed with the state’s contention that the law requires CPCs to disclose a range of options to women and does not bar CPCs from expressing antiabortion-rights views. “The state clearly has a legitimate interest in ensuring pregnant women are fully advised of their rights and treatment options when making reproductive health care decisions and the required disclosure is undeniably related to that interest,” he wrote.
Regarding the CPCs’ claim that the law violates their freedom of religion, Houston said that the act is neutral, applies to all operations offering reproductive health care and does not target religiously affiliated clinics. Further, Houston held that the clinics cannot show irreparable harm under the law because they have not yet been fined or received warnings for failure to comply.
Houston also agreed with the city’s contention that CPCs cannot sue the city in this instance because the law was written and enacted by the state.
Rachele Huennekens, press secretary for Harris, said, “We are pleased that the courts have thus far upheld the California Reproductive FACT Act and its important goals of protecting women’s health and providing women with time-sensitive information about medical services available to them.”
Huennekens added, “Attorney General Harris will continue to defend the law through each phase of litigation” (Courthouse News Service, 2/12).