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Federal Judge Upholds Calif. Law Curbing CPCs' Misinformation

December 23, 2015 — On Monday, a federal judge in California upheld a state law (AB 775) that aims to prohibit crisis pregnancy centers from disseminating certain misleading information, the AP/San Francisco Chronicle reports (AP/San Francisco Chronicle, 12/22).

The law is scheduled to take effect Jan. 1, 2016.

Background

Gov. Jerry Brown (D) signed AB 775 in October. The law, which was introduced by Assembly members David Chiu (D) and Autumn Burke (D), expands protections in a 2011 San Francisco ordinance (212-11) that bars CPCs from disseminating misleading information.

The legislation requires licensed facilities that provide services related to pregnancy and family planning to let women know about how and where they could access affordable and timely abortion, contraception and prenatal care services.

Further, the legislation requires unlicensed facilities that provide pregnancy- and family planning-related services to tell patients the facilities are not licensed and that they have no staff members who are licensed providers. Such facilities will be required to disseminate a notice to patients at the facility and in any digital or print advertising materials stating, "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."

CPCs that do not comply with the law will be subject to a $500 fine for the first offense and a $1,000 penalty for any offense thereafter. The state attorney general, county counsels and city attorneys will have the authority to enforce the law (Women's Health Policy Report, 10/13).

The conservative legal organization Pacific Justice Institute filed a lawsuit against the law on behalf of three CPCs. The institute sought an injunction against the law.

Details of Judge's Ruling 

According to the AP/Chronicle, U.S. District Judge Kimberly Mueller rejected the plaintiffs' argument that the law violates the CPC's right to free speech (AP/San Francisco Chronicle, 12/22).

Mueller said the notification required under the law is compelled speech, but she said it only "provides truthful, non-misleading information to the clinics' clients during their appointments" and "does not otherwise restrict speech." Further, she said CPCs still can promote their religious beliefs and "even criticize the (law) during appointments with their clients."

Mueller wrote, "California has a special interest in protecting and regulating trades that closely concern public health," adding, "Though the public interest favors upholding the First Amendment, the public interest also favors ensuring California women are fully informed as to their reproductive health care options."

According to the Sacramento Bee's "Capitol Alert," a ruling issued last week by a federal judge in Oakland, Calif., also upheld the state law. Two more lawsuits against the law still are pending, one of which will be heard today and the other in January.

Comments

A spokesperson for Attorney General Kamala Harris (D) said, "We are pleased by the rulings issued in these two lawsuits and will continue to defend the Reproductive FACT Act to ensure women are able to make informed decisions about their health."

Meanwhile, Matthew McReynolds, a senior staff attorney at Pacific Justice Institute, said the organization would soon decide whether to appeal the decision (Koseff, "Capitol Alert," Sacramento Bee, 12/22).