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Religious clinics sue for right to not mention abortion to Californians

Operators of religious pregnancy centers have sued Atty. Gen. Kamala D. Harris to block a new California law that requires such clinics to provide information about abortion and contraceptive services offered by other providers.

Under the legislation, which was sponsored by Harris and abortion rights group NARAL Pro-Choice America, health clinics that offer certain pregnancy-related services have to tell patients that California has public programs that offer low-cost or free family planning options, including contraception and abortion. The clinics must provide a phone number to the patient's local county social services office.

Abortion rights supporters say these religious clinics, known as crisis pregnancy centers, offer false or misleading information about abortion and reproductive health.

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Two crisis pregnancy centers, one in Marysville and the other in Redding, are seeking an injunction against the law, which will go into effect Jan. 1. 

In their complaint, both operators cite religious and moral objections to abortion, which they do not perform. Informing patients of where they can get abortions "directly violates the foundational religious principles" of the centers, they say, infringing on their 1st Amendment rights to free speech and free exercise of religion.

"Forcing a religious pro-life charity to proclaim a pro-abortion declaration is on its face an egregious violation of both the free speech and free exercise clauses of the First Amendment to the Constitution.  We will not rest until this government mandate is completely halted," said Brad Dacus, president of the Pacific Justice Institute, a conservative nonprofit that filed the suit on the centers' behalf. 

The lawsuit was filed last weekend in federal court in Sacramento, soon after Gov. Jerry Brown signed the measure, AB 775, by Assemblyman David Chiu (D-San Francisco) and Assemblywoman Autumn Burke (D-Marina Del Rey), into law. 

"It's not surprising that anti-choice activists providing misleading information in their clinics have brought a lawsuit against AB 775, which was carefully vetted by our attorney general," said Chiu in a statement. "The Supreme Court has repeatedly upheld a woman's right to choose, and we look forward to courts agreeing with us.”

Through a spokesperson, Harris pledged to "vigorously defend the state law in court."

Follow @melmason for more on California government and politics.

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