State law trumps antiabortion centers' attempts at obfuscation

This year state lawmakers moved to counteract the troubling and deceptive practices employed by some "crisis pregnancy" centers to deter women from considering an abortion. Their response — the Reproductive FACT Act, which Gov. Jerry Brown recently signed into law — requires licensed facilities primarily offering family planning or pregnancy-related services to notify customers that the state offers free or low-cost access to a variety of family planning services, including abortion, and to provide a phone number for the local county social services office. Unlicensed facilities offering pregnancy-related services must provide notice that they are not licensed by the state as medical facilities and have no medical personnel overseeing services.

Now, two religiously affiliated nonprofits that operate free pregnancy counseling services have filed suit, seeking an injunction to halt the law from going into effect in January. The plaintiffs — A Woman's Friend Pregnancy Resource Clinic and Crisis Pregnancy Center of Northern California — argue that requiring such disclosure violates their 1st Amendment rights because it forces them to contradict their religious principles and their antiabortion message to clients.

But this is not a case of religiously affiliated businesses being forced by law to operate against their beliefs. The law ensures that every licensed facility that sets itself up as a pregnancy counseling center lets women know that all types of family planning and pregnancy counseling are available in the state at little or no cost. That's a legitimate use of the state's power to regulate public health facilities, not the state compelling speech.

Ideally, all pregnancy counseling centers would make it clear upfront in their advertising what sorts of guidance and services they do and do not offer. But an investigation by the National Abortion Rights Action League found that online ads for many centers across the country were vague and misleading, and that some paid to advertise their facilities to people searching online for information about abortion. (Nationwide, there are about 3,500 of these counseling centers — far outnumbering abortion clinics.) When NARAL sent trained investigators posing as possibly pregnant women to 45 of the estimated 167 pregnancy counseling centers in California, most gave them medically inaccurate information about the risks and ramifications of getting an abortion.

Antiabortion practitioners have the right to make their argument against abortion, but not to bamboozle women to advance their cause. The state can and should make sure pregnancy counseling facilities that operate under a state license tell their clients where to get accurate information about the full range of options.

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