Two religious pregnancy clinics filed a lawsuit against California Attorney General Kamala Harris asking for an injunction preventing the enforcement of a recently passed bill called the Reproductive FACT (Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care, and Transparency) Act (AB 775).
The legislation requires licensed covered facilities to inform all clients that California offers public programs that provide immediate free or low-cost family planning services, abortion, and prenatal care for eligible women. Facilities are also required to provide phone numbers of the clients' county social services office to allow them to call and check if they are eligible for the programs.
Violation of the legislation would require the facilities to pay a $500 civil penalty for the first time, and a $1,000 civil penalty for each violation thereafter. The law is set to take effect on January 1.
"At a minimum, [AB 775] unconstitutionally compels [the clinics] to speak messages that they have not chosen, with which they do not agree, and that distract, and detract from, the messages they have chosen to speak," reads the legal complaint. "Disseminating the mandated state message, which is inconsistent with plaintiffs' religious convictions, burdens these clinics' free exercise of religion, secured under the First Amendment."
"Forcing a religious pro-life charity to proclaim a pro-abortion declaration is on its face an egregious violation of both the free speech and free exercise clauses of the First Amendment of the Constitution," said Brad Dacus, the president of the Pacific Justice Institute, a non-profit conservative legal group representing the plaintiffs. "We will not rest until this government mandate is completely halted."
Supporters of the bill argue that the bill prevents "crisis pregnancy centers," which provide reproductive care and counseling outside of the option of aborting a fetus, from giving false information or a lack of information about abortion and the other forms of reproductive care that women could receive.
"It's not surprising that anti-choice activists providing misleading information in their clinics have brought a lawsuit against AB 775, which was carefully vetted by our attorney general," Assemblyman David Chiu, one of the authors of the legislation, told the Los Angeles Times.
"Our state has a compelling interest to make sure all pregnant women have timely access to healthcare," Chiu told the Times in May. "Our bill does not require referrals to abortion clinics, does not provide a preference over one kind of clinic or another, and it doesn't discriminate on the basis of viewpoint or religion."
The bill was signed into law on Friday by California Governor Jerry Brown. It won a 24-14 vote in the state Senate, and a 49-26 vote in the Assembly.