Health & Medicine

Health clinics run by anti-abortion groups sue attorney general over AB 775

Reproductive health clinics run by abortion opponents moved immediately to head off enforcement of a bill signed Friday by Gov. Jerry Brown that would require the clinics to inform patients that abortion services are available elsewhere.

On Saturday in Sacramento federal court, religiously affiliated clinics in Marysville and Redding that don’t offer abortions sued California Attorney General Kamala Harris, a sponsor of the new law, asking for an injunction preventing it from taking effect Jan. 1.

“At a minimum,” the lawsuit charges, AB 775 “unconstitutionally compels (the clinics) to speak messages that they have not chosen, with which they do not agree, and that distract, and detract from, the messages they have chosen to speak,” in violation of their free speech rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment.

In addition, the suit claims, “Disseminating the mandated state message, which is inconsistent with plaintiffs’ religious convictions, burdens these clinics’ free exercise of religion, secured under the First Amendment.”

The 18-page complaint, filed on behalf of the clinics by the Pacific Justice Institute, a conservative, nonprofit legal organization in Sacramento, asks the court to declare the Reproductive Fact Act unconstitutional and prohibit its enforcement.

After Brown signed AB 775, Harris released a statement expressing her pride in co-sponsoring the act, “which ensures that all women have equal access to comprehensive reproductive health care services, and that they have the facts they need to make informed decisions about their health and their lives.”

Amy Everitt, director of NARAL Pro-Choice California, a nonprofit advocacy organization, described the act Friday in a prepared statement as “historic” and said it “sets (a) precedent for (the) nation.”

“This is what it looks like to respect women: Empower us and trust us to make the best decisions for ourselves and our families,” she said.

At the same time, Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, said, “Anti-choice crisis pregnancy centers are ground-zero in the fight for reproductive freedom, and Gov. Brown and the California Legislature can be proud of leading the first successful statewide effort to ensure that no woman is tricked into walking through doors of a (clinic) to be manipulated and shamed again.”

Los Angeles-based advocacy group Black Women for Wellness joined Harris and NARAL Pro-Choice California as sponsors of the bill, which was authored by Assemblyman David Chiu, D-San Francisco, and Assemblywoman Autumn Burke, D-Los Angeles.

Under its terms, licensed reproductive health clinics must notify patients that California has programs to help them access affordable family planning, abortion services and prenatal care. The law would cover “crisis pregnancy centers” run by anti-abortion organizations.

Two such facilities – A Woman’s Friend Pregnancy Resource Clinic in Marysville and Crisis Pregnancy Center of Northern California in Redding – filed the suit against Harris. Both religious nonprofit corporations are licensed by the state to operate the clinics and offer, at no charge, medical consultations, pregnancy testing, ultrasound examinations and other services, the suit says. It says that, based on moral and religious convictions, they do not offer or refer for abortions.

A Woman’s Friend and Crisis Pregnancy Center are ministries of churches in their respective areas, “both Protestant and Catholic,” that oppose abortion, the suit says. “The teachings of the New Testament of the Bible are the basis and foundation for (their) mission, purpose, and operations,” it says.

The just-enacted legislation, however, requires that they inform clients of California public programs that do offer abortions, and that they supply their clients with a telephone number for the appropriate county social services office so the clients can find out if they qualify for those programs that include abortion services.

Facilities that fail to obey the new law are subject to a $500 civil penalty for a first offense and a $1,000 penalty for each subsequent offense. The law confers enforcement authority on the state attorney general, county counsels and city attorneys. In each enforcement action, the initiating agency receives the money.

Denny Walsh: 916-321-1189