Health

LA City Attorney, county to enforce new abortion notice law

Crisis 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.
Crisis 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.
Susanica Tam for KPCC

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The Los Angeles City Attorney's office said Monday it will enforce a new California law requiring "crisis pregnancy centers" to notify clients that the state offers access to low-cost and free abortions, even as it faces challenges in state and federal court.

His statement follows a KPCC investigation last month, where a reporter visited eight pregnancy centers in Los Angeles County and found six were not complying with the Reproductive FACT Act. They said no agencies had checked on them.

"Willfully flouting the law, as I have heard from news reports that some of these locations might be doing, is completely unacceptable in the City of Los Angeles," Feuer said at a press conference. His staff said he was already looking into the issue before KPCC's report.

Feuer said his office sent letters to six centers he's aware of operating in the city, informing them of their legal obligation to abide by the law and the potential consequences for not complying.

According to the California ProLife Council, 189 crisis pregnancy centers are in operation in the state, providing women with pregnancy tests, ultrasounds and counseling. Critics say their main goal is to persuade women against abortions.

The new law, which went into effect in January, requires the centers to inform women that California provides immediate free or low-cost access to comprehensive family planning services, including abortion, and to contact county social services offices for details. Centers can hand the notices to clients, post it in waiting rooms or post it online.

The penalty for not complying with the law is a $500 fine for a first offense and $1,000 for each offense after that.

Feuer said his office, with the Los Angeles County Department of Consumer and Business Affairs, would follow up with investigations, but declined to describe how the they would conduct them. He encouraged pregnant women to contact his office if they believe they have received inaccurate or incomplete information about their options.

Fawn Kemble, client services director of Claris Health -- one of the centers in Los Angeles that got a notice from the City Attorney -- said that center has been giving clients proper notice since January.

Alliance Defending Freedom is representing pregnancy centers in one of five lawsuits seeking to overturn California's notification law. Among its clients are three centers in the city of Los Angeles: Pregnancy Counseling Center in LA, Open Arms Pregnancy Clinic in Northridge, and Harbor Pregnancy Help Center in Wilmington.

"If you're a pro-life organization, you're offering free health to women so the women have a choice other than abortion,"  said Senior Counsel Matt Bowman. "It's a violation of the First Amendment, it's a violation of their core beliefs, to have to refer those women to a phone number where they can get free abortions."

Bowman said the Ninth Circuit court in San Francisco is scheduled to hear an expedited appeal on June 14.

Feuer said the law doesn't require centers to advocate for abortion; rather they can "counter" with other facts.

"They can say they don't agree with the information," he said, "but they have to provide the information."