A pregnant girl or woman who shows up at a pregnancy counseling center, often in crisis, needs to know the full range of her options. But before the Reproductive FACT Act became law in 2015, most were getting an antiabortion polemic, and nothing else. The FACT Act required state-licensed pregnancy counseling centers to do one more, relative minor thing: post or provide a specifically worded notice to patients informing them about public programs that provide free or low-cost access to family planning services, including prenatal care and abortion.
Information about programs for pregnant women is exactly the kind of thing you’d want the state to require a licensed center for pregnant women to supply. However, Riverside County Superior Court Judge Gloria Trask on Monday granted an injunction against the law, declaring that the required notice violated the 1st Amendment’s protections against government-compelled speech. State Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra has vowed to appeal, as well he should.
The lawsuit was brought on behalf of enterprises that pass themselves off as pregnancy crisis centers, but which actually exist to persuade women not to have abortions. Ideally, all of these clinics would make clear to prospective customers that they oppose abortion and have a specific view on pregnancy, so any woman showing up would know exactly what kind of clinic she had chosen.
But many of these centers deliberately do not advertise their antiabortion mission, in an attempt to attract women who are considering one. (An investigation by the National Abortion Rights Action League a few years ago found that some clinics went as far as to offer clients medically inaccurate information about the risks and ramifications of getting an abortion.)
Even Scott Scharpen, the president of the clinic provider that brought the suit, acknowledges that his organization is antiabortion but does not advertise as such, and that it “attempts to have women who would otherwise obtain an abortion go to the clinic and subsequently choose to give birth,” according to the judge’s decision.
A pregnancy counseling clinic has the right to proffer its antiabortion message. That is, indeed, free speech. But as a matter of smart public health policy, a state-licensed pregnancy counseling clinic has an obligation to offer its clients all the information they need to make one of the most profound and serious healthcare decisions of their lives: how to carry on or terminate their pregnancies. And in the case of the FACT Act, clinics are required simply to post information saying there is somewhere (else) to go for more information about prenatal care, contraception and abortion. That’s hardly an egregious imposition on these clinics’ 1st Amendment rights.