Pro-life pregnancy help centers are days away from having to choose between following their conscience and following a newly enacted state law in California, after two district judges denied motions for preliminary injunctions Monday.
The motions were filed on behalf of a total of six life-affirming pregnancy help medical clinics—each of which are state-licensed clinics—by the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) and the Pacific Justice Institute (PJI) in separate cases.
Judges in both cases declined to stop the so-called “Reproductive FACT Act” from taking effect Jan. 1, 2016 on constitutional grounds. The rulings set the stage for the state’s 150 pro-life pregnancy help locations—including 74 state-licensed clinics offering free limited ultrasound—to incur first-offense fines starting at $500 for refusing to post signage the organizations say forces them to advertise a pro-abortion message.
Both nonprofit firms are expected to challenge the respective decisions. ACLJ Senior Counsel Francis J. Manion confirmed he had filed an appeal early Tuesday to the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals.
"We're obviously disappointed with what the district court did in denying the motion for preliminary injunction," Manion said. "As far as we're concerned, that was just the end of round one. We think our arguments are strong, and we obviously disagree with the court's opinion. We're relatively optimistic that we'll get it reversed on appeal. We think the law is strongly on our side. Sometimes courts see it differently than we do and we understand that, so we'll try at the next level."
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Two hearings regarding the law have yet to be held, with Riverside County’s Go Mobile for Life—a state-licensed ultrasound facility—slated to argue its case for an injunction Wednesday (Dec. 23). Alliance Defending Freedom and National Institute of Family and Life Advocates are awaiting a Jan. 11 court date to oppose the law.
Interpreting pregnancy center messaging as “commercial and professional speech,” U.S. District Judges Jeffery White and Kimberly Mueller both ruled that the signage dictated by the new law—which applies in practice only to pro-life pregnancy help locations—does not pose an eminent enough threat to justify blocking the bill, signed into law Oct. 9 by Gov. Jerry Brown.
Even though the bill was sponsored by NARAL Pro-Choice California and built primarily upon the abortion advocacy group's unfounded allegations against community supported pregnancy help, Judge Mueller ruled that the notice, "provides the information in neutral language and does not incorporate ideological commentary convey an opinion."
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The law will force 75 state-licensed free ultrasound facilities, to give each of its clients the following disclaimer, which includes the phone number of a county social services office where a client could obtain an abortion covered by Medi-Cal.
The notice, which the law specifies must either be posted as a public notice in “22-point type,” “distributed to all clients in no less than 14-point font” or distributed digitally “at the time of check-in or arrival,” applies to all pregnancy help medical clinics licensed by the state.
"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 [insert the telephone number]."
Meanwhile, pregnancy help centers that do not offer medical services will be required to post the following signage in two “clear and conspicuous” places—“in the entrance of the facility and at least one additional area where clients wait to receive services,” as well as in “any print and digital advertising materials including Internet Web sites”.
The font required is to be “in no less than 48-point type” and will read as follows:
"This facility is not licensed as a medical facility by the State of California and has no licensed medical provider who provides or directly supervises the provision of services."
Judge White presided over the case presented by the American Center for Law and Justice, which represents LivingWell Medical Clinic, Pregnancy Center of the North Coast and Confidence Pregnancy Center.
Judge Mueller ruled in the case presented by the Pacific Justice Institute, which represents A Woman’s Friend Pregnancy Resource Clinic, Crisis Pregnancy Center of Northern California and Alternatives Women’s Center.
Note: This article edited from its original edition to include further information on the ongoing appeal process. This article has also been corrected from its original form as of Feb. 18, 2016. California pregnancy centers not offering ultrasound services are not required to post the notice referring to county social services, as was originally reported.