Health

Judge voids CA 'pregnancy center' abortion notification law

The Women's Pregnancy Care Clinic in Pasadena was one of the clinics affected by the state notification law.
The Women's Pregnancy Care Clinic in Pasadena was one of the clinics affected by the state notification law.
Susanica Tam for KPCC

A Riverside County Superior Court Judge has voided a California law that requires controversial "pregnancy centers" to notify their clients that the state offers access to low-cost and free abortions. State Attorney General Xavier Becerra said that he will appeal the ruling.

Judge Gloria Trask ruled the law violates the state constitution's guarantee of free speech.

"Compelled speech must be subject to reasonable limitation," Trask wrote in Monday's opinion, arguing that the law "violates 'individual freedom of mind'" by compelling the clinic run by the plaintiff The Scharpen Foundation "to speak words with which it profoundly disagrees when the State has numerous alternative methods of publishing its message."

The state can buy TV ads, address the issue in public schools "as part of sex education," or even "purchase billboard space and post its message directly in front of Scharpen Foundation's clinic," she said.

"However virtuous the State's ends, they do not justify its means," Trask concluded.

"We are thrilled with Judge Trask's ruling, which is a huge victory for free speech," said The Scharpen Foundation President and founder Scott Scharpen. "The whole notion of being compelled to share information with our patients about abortion availability, which is contrary to our mission and purpose, is fundamentally wrong," he said in a statement.

"Judge Trask is absolutely correct that the State can't force a pro-life clinic to advertise abortions on behalf of the State and its abortion mills," said Scharpen lawyer Robert Tyler.

Pregnancy centers provide women with pregnancy tests, ultrasounds and counseling. But critics say these facilities' main goal is to persuade women not to have abortions.

In announcing that he will appeal the ruling, Becerra said in a statement, "Information is power, and all women should have access to the information they need when making personal healthcare decisions." He said the law "ensures that women in California receive accurate information about their healthcare options. The California Department of Justice will do everything necessary to protect women’s healthcare rights."

There were 189 pregnancy centers in California in 2016, according to the California ProLife Council

The state legislature passed the notification law in 2015, following an undercover investigation of 45 pregnancy centers by NARAL Pro-Choice California. The probe found that "90 percent of them … lied about medical facts around pregnancy and abortion" and "attempted to shame and delay women from accessing abortion care," says Amy Everitt, the group's state director.

NARAL Pro-Choice California denounced Trask's ruling Tuesday, calling it "a blow to California women." It said in a statement that the state law "balanced the compelling interest to share information that impacts women's health with organizations' ability to freely express their views."

Following NARAL Pro-Choice America's 2015 report, Peggy Hartshorn, president of Heartbeat International, a network of pregnancy centers and other "pro-life pregnancy help organizations," belittled a similar report by NARAL America, maintaining in a statement that it consisted of "false and flimsy allegations."

She went on to say that "no woman should ever feel so alone, coerced, or hopeless that she ends her child's life through abortion," adding, "that's why, in every corner of the globe, Heartbeat International affiliates and others provide all the facts about pregnancy - including the baby's development and the many serious physical and psychological dangers of abortion."

This story has been updated.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly spelled Xavier Becerra's name. KPCC regrets the error.