Guest post by Josh McClure
In California, pregnancy centers are leading the charge against oppressive legislation designed to force life-affirming centers to refer their patients for abortion assistance.
On April 14th in Sacramento nearly one hundred pro life advocates came to the Capital to urge the committee on Health to abandon AB 775. Each was wearing a green scarf indicating that though they were from different parts of the State, they stood unified in opposition. The proposed legislation requires pro life clinics to post signs or provide a written brochure promoting abortion and birth control. Pregnancy centers represent an alternative to abortion and advocate abstinence from sex until marriage and natural family planning for those married. Their position is informed by conscientious objection to the taking of life with respect to the value of human life in the womb. The essence of AB 775 is the State compelling speech. Heather Gebelin Hacker esq. gave the first testimony opposed to the bill. She focused on the 1st amendment of the US Constitution and its protection from laws of this kind. Similar laws were enacted in Maryland and New York. In both cases the mandate compelling speech was overturned by the Judiciary. In Maryland, U.S. District Judge Marvin J. Garbis ruled on Jan. 28, 2011 that the law is “unenforceable.” He said it is for the provider, and not the government, to “decide when and how to discuss abortion and birth-control method.” And “The Government cannot, consistent with the First Amendment, require a ‘pro-life’ pregnancy-related service center to post a sign.” Descriptions for why the law was needed, “can only support the conclusion that defendants enacted the ordinance out of disagreement with plaintiffs’ viewpoint on abortion and birth-control.”
AB 775 also requires non licensed pregnancy centers to add a disclaimer to all advertisements. This violates the first amendment for two reasons. The first is compelled speech with a government message as previously stated above. The second is the law effectively censors the voice of pregnancy centers. For example, Google keyword ads only allow 75 characters in their ads. The mandated disclaimer is 173 characters. There is not even enough room for the disclaimer on Google ads, let alone any advertisement. Facebook ads require no more than 20% of the ad can be text. This usually means the ad can contain a couple of words only. AB 775 effectively silences online advertising by pregnancy centers! The result is censorship dressed up to appear like principled advertising policy. Additionally advertisements in churches, news papers, billboards, fliers and all fundraising “advertising” must also include the message, “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.” Can you imagine this government message emblazoned inside your Church’s bulletin?
Yet another argument made in the committee hearing was by Mary Sterner Sosa MD. Her testimony demonstrated a problem with posting signs encouraging and referring clients elsewhere before they are evaluated. California law and best practices forbids client abandonment. By encouraging clients to go elsewhere to seek abortion or birth control services prior to an evaluation, could be viewed by the client as abandonment. AB 775 opens the door for lawsuits by complying with the new law and violating other areas of existing law.
The thrust demonstrating the urgency of AB-775, according to the bill, is for women who are pregnant to obtain care as soon as possible. Pregnancy centers that are licensed medical clinics actually speed up the process for women to receive care by providing a verification of pregnancy upon their first visit. This verification is required for women to apply for Presumptive Medi-Cal to begin pre-natal care. One clinic noted that 100% of clients with a positive pregnancy test are referred for pre-natal care including presumptive Medi-Cal coverage at their first visit. Additionally 78% of pregnant clients that were considering abortion concluded services in one day. Those who had a delay in the completion of services at the pregnancy center were due to securing the ultrasound (according to standards of practice and client’s schedule) and only accounted for 19% of pregnant women who were considering abortion. These numbers do not indicate a systematic attempt to prevent quick care. It is reasonable for a woman considering her options to take some time to seriously consider them. If the client’s choice is abortion, the verification of pregnancy along with the ultrasound determines the method of abortion the woman must seek. Many of these centers actually receive referrals from abortion providers for ultrasound to provide correct gestational age! If pregnancy centers were so harmful to women as NARAL suggests, why would abortion providers make a referral to them?
The truth about this bill is not hard to see. AB 775 specifically targets Christian pro life pregnancy centers to; silence their voice of opposition, encourage potential clients to look to State funded programs that promote abortion and abortifacient birth control, and lastly to force the center and it’s volunteers to violate their conscience by referring for an abortion and abortifacient birth control. Abortion providers and primary care clinics who bill Medi-Cal are excluded from the mandate. The bill states, “California’s public policy supporting reproductive health is undermined if residents do not know their rights and the programs available to exercise their reproductive options.” If lawmakers in Sacramento are concerned about this, shouldn’t abortion providers post a sign notifying their clients of their rights, and alternative programs that would allow them to exercise their reproductive options? A review of the history of the bill and the commentary attached demonstrates radical ideology informed by a NARAL report that is full of bias and twisting of facts. Those lawmakers who are pro choice should be cautious in signing this bill. AB 775 is actually an anti choice bill, because it harms and prevents the public from knowing about an alternative choice! It may seem like an odd argument for the pro life movement to make, but choice rules the law of the land. Our politicians are motivated by reelection. A pro choice Democrat would find it difficult to explain to their constituents that they voted for an anti-choice bill.
Women are smart. There is no need for pregnancy centers to lie, coerce, mislead or prevent their seeking care. On the contrary, pregnancy centers are motivated to keep the trust of their clients so that confidence can be shared with friends. AB 775 as well as the NARAL report seems to be founded on the notion that women are not smart enough to understand all three options they have, their benefits, responsibilities and side effects. Their view is one that paints women as easily misled or duped. If there is a war on women in America today, it is this kind of narrow thinking about women at it’s foundation. Pregnancy centers exist to provide an alternative and opposing message to abortion profiteers, and promoters of casual sex outside of marriage. Their disagreement with the government and the abortion industry on reproductive health is protected by the first amendment – Planned Parenthood v. Casey, 505 U.S. 833 (1992) This decision ruled that, “men and women of good conscience may disagree on these issues.” State government should not pass laws tipping the scales for women’s choice. AB 775 is another example of government over reach, and legislation of morality. That is, the mandated acceptance of the morality of abortion, casual sex and abortifacient birth control.
AB 775 was released from the Assembly Health Committee on a 12-5 vote with 2 abstentions. Lawmakers in Sacramento should take notice! This bill barely passed. In one week those opposed to this bill mustered a large group of opposition, and got hundreds of calls in to committee members. One staff member in Brian Maienschein’s office indicated he had been on the phone all day the Monday before taking calls from constituents opposed to AB 775. There are 170 pregnancy centers in California in nearly every assembly district. Each of these centers have about 5000 supporters. Pushing AB 775 will activate 850,000 people in opposition each with a vote!
Josh McClure leads the Pregnancy Care Clinic of El Cajon, near San Diego. This post originally appeared at his blog, the Prolife Observer.