In a significant blow to anti-abortion advocates, a federal appeals court ruled Friday that anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centers must inform women about low-cost publicly-funded contraception and abortion services.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals turned away a constitutional free speech challenge to a state law that requires licensed pregnancy-related clinics disseminate a notice stating the existence of state funded family-planning services for the poor and for unlicensed clinics to provide notice they are not licensed by the state.
The appeals court also refused to issue a preliminary injunction that would have halted enforcement of the what’s known as the FACT Act, the California Reproductive Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care and Transparency Act.
The panel said it was joining the Second and Fourth Circuits, which have upheld similar regulations for pregnancy clinics.
Four anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centers asked the appeals court to declare unconstitutional the law.
“The state wants women to be told all available options, even abortion, and for my clients that is not the best way to deal with pregnancy and the state cannot force the opposition to speak that position,” Francis Manion, attorney for the Pregnancy Care Center of the North Coast, told the
In 2015, California passed the FACT Act, to regulate the 300-plus pregnancy centers in the state.
Under the FACT Act the centers must notify their patients about how to obtain birth control and abortion services. The state’s concern grew out of the rising number of crisis pregnancy centers that often opened near abortion clinics and present themselves as providing a range of pregnancy services, but often offer limited or no medical service and have provided factually discredited information to women with unwanted pregnancies.
They advertise to women who believe they may be pregnant and provide pregnancy tests, adoption information and financial help for baby clothes and supplies. They also strongly discourage abortion, according to the state.
The FACT Act requires that the clinics post signs that say California provides immediate free or low-cost access to family planning services, including contraception, prenatal care and abortion and include a phone number.
For the 60 percent of these clinics that have no medical license, they act also requires that they state it has no licensed medical provider to over services, according to the state.
The four pregnancy clinics challenged the law on free speech and religious freedom grounds.
They appealed after four trial court rulings rejected their efforts to block the law.
Deputy Attorney General Jon Eisenberg, representing the state, said in June that the unlicensed facilities must give notice if they provide ultrasound tests, pregnancy tests, advertise for these or collect health information.
“The law makes sure women know who they are dealing with when they face the grave consequences of when they are pregnant,” he said.
Judge Dorothy Nelson wrote the opinion, joined by Judges Wallace Tashima and John Owens.
Case: A Woman’s Friend Pregnancy Resource Center v. Harris, No. 15-17517
Watch Oral argument here.