Pamphlets distributed by the Pregnancy Care Center and J. Rophe Medical in Eureka. File photo.
Starting this weekend, “crisis pregnancy centers” and faith-based anti-abortion clinics will be required to tell patients that abortion and other reproductive services are available elsewhere. The requirement comes thanks to one of many new laws taking effect in the new year.
Assembly Bill 775, aka the Reproductive FACT (Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care, and Transparency) Act, is intended “to ensure that California residents make their personal reproductive health care decisions knowing their rights and the health care services available to them.”
More specifically, the law will require organizations such as Eureka’s Pregnancy Care Center and its affiliated J. Rophe Medical clinic to “advise each patient at the time of her visit of the various publicly funded family planning and pregnancy-related resources available in California,” including abortion services.
Critics of faith-based women’s health organizations such as J. Rophe say they exist only to dissuade women from having abortions, often using misleading and inaccurate information. Cindy Broese Van Groenou, executive director of J. Rophe and the Pregnancy Care Center, told the Outpost last year that their purpose is to “offer compassion, direction and help to those who are facing life decisions.”
(See this Outpost story from 2014 for more on J. Rophe, and I’ll repeat my disclosure from that post here: I’m pro-choice and used to volunteer for Six Rivers Planned Parenthood.)
Almost immediately after Governor Jerry Brown signed the bill into law back in October, the conservative Pacific Justice Institute filed a lawsuit against California Attorney General Kamala Harris on behalf of faith-based clinics in Marysville and Redding. The suit argued that the law violates clinic operators’ rights to free speech and religious expression by forcing them to disseminate a state-mandated message.
But in a ruling issued last week, District Judge Kimberly Mueller found that the law merely “provides truthful, non-misleading information to the clinics’ clients during their appointments” while leaving workers free to express their religious beliefs and “even to criticize the [law] during appointments with their clients,” the Sacramento Bee reports.
The notice that clinics must provide reads as follows:
California has public programs that provide immediate free or low-cost access to comprehensive family planning services (including all FDA-approved methods of contraception), prenatal care, and abortion for eligible women. To determine whether you qualify, contact the county social services office at [insert the telephone number].
This notice must be posted in a conspicuous place (printed in at least 22-point type on office-size paper or larger), distributed directly to clients (in at least 14-point type) or sent digitally (via email or text message, for example). Failure to comply can result in a $500 fine for a first offense and a $1,000 fine for each subsequent offense.
J. Rophe Medical was licensed by the state as a primary care facility in 2011. The clinic offers pregnancy tests, ultrasounds and other services including “abortion recovery.” The associated Pregnancy Care Center across town offers maternity and baby clothes, prenatal vitamins and a wide variety of “educational” materials designed to steer women away from abortions, in part by exaggerating and misrepresenting the side-effects of the procedure.
Reached by phone earlier today, Broese Van Groenou declined to comment on the new law.
NARAL Pro-Choice California was one of three sponsors of the bill, and upon its passage Ilyse Hogue, president of parent organization 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 CPC to be manipulated and shamed again.”
Meanwhile, the Bee reports that two more lawsuits against AB 775 remain pending, including one in Riverside scheduled to be heard tomorrow and another in San Diego scheduled for January.