'We are outlawing misinformation.' California bill goes after crisis pregnancy centers
The Sacramento Bee February 8, 2023
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Tribune News Service) — Nearly five years after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a California law aimed at preventing "crisis pregnancy centers" from misrepresenting the prenatal and abortion services they offer, a state lawmaker is trying again with a different approach.
The original measure required centers to provide pregnant people seeking help with information about how the state offers free or low-cost prenatal and abortion-related care to qualified applicants.
The Supreme Court ruled that this violated the center operators' First Amendment rights.
Assembly Bill 315, authored by Assemblywoman Rebecca Bauer-Kahan, D-Orinda, was written with that ruling in mind, according to the lawmaker.
Rather than requiring centers to provide signage advertising state-run abortion services, AB 315 uses the state's false advertising law to prohibit centers from misrepresenting that they provide, or are capable of providing, abortion services.
Bauer-Kahan said that often these centers — which frequently operate in areas without a Planned Parenthood clinic or other abortion provider — misrepresent to their clients whether they provide abortion services on-site.
When someone seeks out a center looking for options, "the window that they have available to them (to get an abortion) is narrow," Bauer-Kahan said.
The plaintiff in the 2018 Supreme Court case that struck down the original California law gave the revised bill little chance of success.
Anne O'Connor, vice president of legal affairs at the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates, or NIFLA, called AB 315 "at best, unconstitutional for vagueness and overbreadth."
"At its worst, it is a bill by pro-abortion activists to silence anyone who offers alternatives to their sacred abortion agenda," she added.
O'Connor said that the Supreme Court case of NIFLA v. Becerra "already settled compelled speech and if California wants to rack up extraordinary attorney fees once again only to lose, they can go ahead and waste taxpayer dollars with this ridiculous bill."
She cited a 2019 report from the Charlotte Lozier Institute, an anti-abortion thinktank, that found such centers provided more than $14.2 million worth of free services to nearly 94,000 people in California.
"The state of California can answer to them when they decide to make it more difficult for people in need to access services of pregnancy centers," O'Connor said.
The bill comes more than six months after Attorney General Rob Bonta issued a consumer alert about the state's 179 crisis pregnancy centers.
"While crisis pregnancy centers may claim to offer comprehensive reproductive healthcare services, their mission is to discourage people from accessing abortion care," Bonta said in a statement at the time.
Bonta's office cited a study by The Alliance, a coalition of progressive organizations that advocate for reproductive rights, that found most such centers do not offer prenatal care or have a licensed physician on staff. The centers provide misleading or unsubstantiated claims about abortions to try and deter people from seeking them, the study said.
Bauer-Kahan said her bill would prevent centers from doing so.
"We are outlawing misinformation. We are outlawing the practice of misleading the patient," she said.
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