SAN FRANCISCO – A recently enacted California Law requiring licensed family-planning clinics in the state to post a notification on the availability of free or low-cost contraception, prenatal care and abortions for qualifying patients is drawing the ire of several crisis pregnancy centers in the state, which believe being forced to display the posters violates their First Amendment rights. 

Specifically, California’s Reproductive FACT Act requires the clinics to post a notice that states: “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 (the appropriate telephone number).”

In June, non-profit pregnancy resource centers LivingWell Medical Clinic, Pregnancy Care Center North Coast and Confidence Pregnancy Center, as well as other California pregnancy crisis centers, voiced their opposition to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. The centers argued that under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, the government cannot dictate what citizens say without at least first trying other ways to get the intended message across.

The free speech issue was brought to the appeals court after California lower courts denied requests by the crisis centers for injunctions. 

Jesse H. Choper, the Earl Warren Professor of Public Law (emeritus) at the University of California Berkeley’s law school, believes the law “has a very good chance of being upheld.”

“This is so objective,” Choper told the Northern California Record, adding that the posters required under the law carry a “very tame” message.

The pregnancy crisis centers told the appeals court that the posters send a message to clients that abortion is an option, despite the fact that the centers actually discourage abortion as part of their pregnancy counseling services. 

Choper, however, said the poster seems to be more informational in nature, rather than an attempt to encourage or discourage abortion. 

“(The posters are essentially saying) there are all kinds of ways of doing things, and, if you want some information, here’s where to find it,” Choper said.

In addition, Choper said the required notification does not outline the problems with abortion. “It (also) doesn’t seem to be urging you not to have an abortion,” Choper said.

The opponents argued that the state of California did not do enough to consider other ways to inform clinic clients that public assistance may be available for abortion and other “reproductive services.” 

Francis J. Manion of the American Center for Law and Justice, who argued the case before the appeals court on behalf of LivingWell Medical Clinic, Pregnancy Care Center North Coast and Confidence Pregnancy Center, said in a news item posted on the organization’s website that “the state has chosen to sacrifice the First Amendment freedoms of abortion opponents by forcing them to act as ventriloquist’s dummies for a message they consider harmful to the women they seek to help.”

Choper noted that: “There is a constitutional right to have an abortion.”

Manion said the crisis pregnancy centers would take their free speech arguments to the U.S. Supreme Court, if necessary.

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