On January 1, a new law is slated to go into effect that would force crisis pregnancy centers to disclose to women using their services that they are not licensed as medical facilities by the state. California governor Jerry Brown signed the Reproductive FACT Act into law this fall; within days, two crisis pregnancy centers and a religious freedom organization sued to make sure it never takes effect.
While litigation for those suits remains underway, the law recognizes that women dealing with an unintended pregnancy have the right to certain information when they go for medical advice or counseling. The text of the law itself noted that more than half of the 700,000 pregnancies in California each year are unintended.
Crisis pregnancy centers — organizations that offer help to women with unintended pregnancies but which very often hide their anti-abortion agendas — have for years been scrutinized for deceptive practices.
Crisis pregnancy centers currently outnumber abortion clinics 3 to 1 in the United States, as Investigative Fund reporter Meaghan Winter wrote for Cosmopolitan. Winter's most recent report shows that more and more of these centers are presenting themselves as offering medical services as well.
But getting restrictions on what CPCs can and cannot say hasn't always been easy. “An important theme we wanted to get across to people,” says Rebecca Griffin, who is the assistant director of California programs for NARAL Pro-Choice California, about her lobbying for the law in the California legislature “was that each center was dangerous for women's health. They tend to delay women from getting access to the medical care they need.”
Earlier this year, NARAL Pro-Choice California published an extensive study of 45 California crisis pregnancy centers, which revealed rampant dissemination of medical misinformation by center staff members including linking abortion to increased risk of breast cancer and infertility. Griffin says the nonprofit's yearlong investigation of crisis pregnancy centers “laid the groundwork” for pursuing legislation.
Griffin also says that NARAL Pro-Choice California's legislative staff relied heavily on journalists' work on crisis pregnancy centers, including Meaghan Winter's Cosmopolitan investigation on a crisis pregnancy center summit, to make a strong case for the Reproductive FACT Act.
“It was really helpful when people outside our organization were reinforcing what we were saying,” she says.
Key sponsors of the California bill included NARAL Pro-Choice California and Black Women for Wellness, and California Attorney General Kamala Harris.
Opposition leaders have been swift in their response. Less than 24 hours after the Fact ACT passed, the Pacific Justice Institute filed a complaint against Kamala Harris on behalf of two California CPCs, A Woman's Friend Pregnancy Resource Center and Care Net Pregnancy Center of Northern California, which was cited as “Crisis Pregnancy Center of Northern California” in the suit. The lawsuit claims that the law's requirement of the licensed facilities to tell eligible women about other family planning alternatives, particularly abortion, is a violation of the First Amendment. The Alliance Defending Freedom filed a similar suit on behalf of the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates shortly after.
“Since [the opposition groups] lost in the legislature, they are now trying to use the court to block women from getting the information they need,” says Griffin. “They tend to be litigious, so we crafted the bill with that in mind.”