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Judge Upholds California Law Forcing Pro-Life Pregnancy Centers to Post Signs Informing Clients Where They Can Obtain Abortion Services

“The notion that the government can compel religious non-profits to promote practices antithetical to their values is chilling."

(Image source: Shutterstock)

A federal judge has upheld a California law that forces crisis pregnancy centers to post a notice informing clients where they can obtain abortion services.

Crisis pregnancy centers offer women facing an unplanned pregnancy counseling and alternatives to abortion. Some offer parenting classes and adoption referrals. Some can provide assistance with supplies such as clothing and diapers to expecting mothers. They are often faith-based organizations.

Assembly Bill No. 775, known as the Reproductive FACT Act, was approved by the California Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown (D-Calif.) this fall. The law requires pregnancy centers to post the following notice:

“California has public programs that provide immediate free or low-cost access to comprehensive family planning services (including all 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].”

The legislation also requires crisis pregnancy centers that are not licensed medical facilities to post another notice:

“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.”

The law also mandates the size of the signs and the font used on the signs.

According to the Sacramento Bee, District Judge Kimberly Mueller wrote in her decision that the mandated notice is compelled speech, but that it “provides truthful, non-misleading information to the clinics’ clients during their appointments” and “does not otherwise restrict speech.”

Mueller wrote that opponents of the law are free “to criticize the [FACT Act] during appointments with their clients.”

“California has a special interest in protecting and regulating trades that closely concern public health,” she wrote. “Though the public interest favors upholding the First Amendment, the public interest also favors ensuring California women are fully informed as to their reproductive health care options.”

Brad Dacus, the president of Pacific Justice Institute, a non-profit legal organization representing three crisis pregnancy centers that are challenging the law, said in a statement that "this ruling should alarm everyone who believes in a robust First Amendment."

“The notion that the government can compel religious non-profits to promote practices antithetical to their values is chilling," Dacus added.

According to Pacific Justice Institute, the three crisis pregnancy centers are “evaluating all their legal options, including appeal.”

In a statement provided to the Sacramento Bee, a spokeswoman for Attorney General Kamala Harris, a supporter of the law who was named as the defendant in the lawsuit, said, “We are pleased by the rulings issued in these two lawsuits and will continue to defend the Reproductive FACT Act to ensure women are able to make informed decisions about their health.”

There are still two pending lawsuits challenging the law. Barring new legal developments, the law will go into effect on January 1.

Follow Kate Scanlon (@kgscanlon) on Twitter

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