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California Pregnancy Center Law To Face First Amendment Fight in Supreme Court

Xavier Becerra became California's attorney general in January 2017.

 

Sponsors of the California Reproductive Fact Act say they're not surprised the law has faced a half-dozen court battles since it passed in 2015. And they're pretty sure it can stand up to another one.

"We knew that there would be legal challenges, we wrote it with a mind to that, with protecting women’s health," says Amy Everitt, state director for NARAL Pro-Choice California, which sponsored the bill. "So I feel very confident that if this court remains true to free speech, this is certainly a constitutional law."

The bill requires any licensed facility providing pregnancy-related services to distribute this notice to patients:

“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.”

The notice must include a number for county social services.

The law also requires centers that are not licensed medical facilities to disclose that status. 

Anti-abortion pregnancy centers say the law violates their first amendment rights by forcing them to advertise something they don't support.

“California’s threat to pro-life pregnancy care centers and medical clinics counts among the most flagrant violations of constitutional religious and free speech rights in the nation," said Thomas Glessner, founder and president of the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates.

The Virginia-based legal group brought the pending case against the California law. The Supreme Court announced Monday that it would review the law from a free speech perspective.

The law targets pregnancy centers that steer women away from abortions, often by using scare tactics or false information. 

There are about 200 such centers in California according to Everitt.

She says the notices are a way to protect women from bias. 

"This is not compelled speech in any way," she said. "Asking an organization that’s licensed by the state of California to post information about programs that support public health is very standard."

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra announced this week that he will fight to uphold the law in court.

“Information is power, and all women should have access to the information they need when making personal healthcare decisions,” he said in a statement. “The Reproductive FACT Act ensures that women in California receive accurate information about their healthcare options, including whether a facility is a licensed medical provider. The California Department of Justice will do everything necessary to protect women’s healthcare rights."

The pending case goes to conference Nov. 21.

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