Sacramento anti-abortion pregnancy centers resist new law requiring signage

Two Sacramento pregnancy service centers that oppose abortion are not complying with a state law requiring they put up signs informing patients about California’s free and low-cost public programs for family planning, prenatal care and abortion services, according to an investigation carried out by a San Francisco-based abortion rights advocacy group.

Article by Sammy Cajola

Sacramento Life Center and Alternatives Pregnancy Center were the first two centers in the state found by NARAL Pro-Choice California to be allegedly violating Assembly Bill 775, a 2015 law authored by Democratic Assembly members David Chiu, D-San Francisco, and Autumn Burke, D-Marina Del Rey.

The city of Sacramento said it has not performed its own inspections of the clinics or taken actions against them. On Tuesday, NARAL and other abortion rights groups visited four county offices around the state to present petitions asking officials to actively enforce the law.

The law is aimed at crisis pregnancy centers, or faith-based organizations that provide pregnancy counseling to women, as well as ultrasounds, sexually transmitted disease counseling, community resource referrals and other services. The centers have been widely criticized for pushing an anti-abortion message and providing women with misleading and inaccurate information about abortion.

The new law, which went into effect on Jan. 1, requires all clinics whose primary purpose is providing family planning or pregnancy-related services to post an 8 1/2 -by-11-inch sheet of paper with 22-point type “in a conspicuous place” notifying women of available public services. Clinics also have the option to provide a printed or digital notice to each client at the time of arrival.

On Tuesday, The Sacramento Bee visited the Sacramento Life Center and did not find any of the required signage posted in its waiting room.

Abortion rights advocates view the requirement as a necessary reproductive health safety measure. Abortion opponents have called it “compelled speech.”

We have really progressive, really fabulous laws. But if they aren’t enforced, they don’t mean anything.

Amy Everitt, director of NARAL Pro-Choice California

In October, the Sacramento Life Center joined 110 other organizations, including Alternatives Pregnancy Center, in suing the state in federal court to get the law struck down. The suit was filed by the conservative legal nonprofit group Alliance Defending Freedom on behalf of members of the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates – an anti-abortion organization that the two Sacramento crisis pregnancy centers are affiliated with.

Clinics across the state filed injunction requests to prevent the law from taking effect while the case winds its way through the courts.

NARAL Pro-Choice California performed the two Sacramento checks on March 3 and is continuing to conduct spot checks throughout the state looking for signage or informational sheets at the centers.

“It’s important that we start holding these anti-choice organizations responsible,” said the abortion rights group’s director Amy Everitt. “They are wreaking havoc and harm all across our country.”

In 2014, her organization conducted an undercover investigation of 43 centers in 19 counties, which found clinics were buying online ads linked to abortion-related search terms, shaming women for having sex outside of marriage and falsely linking the procedure to breast cancer and depression.

Marie Leatherby, executive director of the Sacramento Life Center, said no one has come to enforce the new law at her clinic, and she will abide by the policy only if she is absolutely compelled to.

“It does go against what we’re all about,” Leatherby said. “Our mission is about helping women carry their children to term. So we’re just waiting to see how the lawsuit plays out.”

These centers are faced with an impossible choice – either refer women to have a child killed or face punishment by the state of California.

Matt Bowman, senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom

Alternatives Pregnancy Center declined to comment on the issue.

Matt Bowman, senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, said the law “forces pro-life centers to recite the government’s message.”

“These centers are faced with an impossible choice – either refer women to have a child killed or face punishment by the state of California,” he said. The law, in fact, does not require centers to make referrals, but only to provide information.

Following the spot checks in early March, NARAL wrote a letter to the Sacramento City Attorney’s Office to inform officials about the noncompliance.

Under the state law, the state attorney general, city attorney or county counsel have the power to impose penalties on noncompliant facilities. Centers that do not comply within 30 days of citation may face a $500 fine initially and a $1,000 fine for “each subsequent offense.”

Gustavo Martinez, supervising deputy city attorney for Sacramento, said the office received the group’s letter and is still developing a procedure for implementing the law.

“We haven’t looked at these two centers. We have to do our own independent investigation,” Martinez said. “It’s premature to determine whether these two centers are in violation.”

In the meantime, NARAL and other abortion rights groups are gathering signatures from people who want the required information posted.

“We have really progressive, really fabulous laws,” Everitt said. “But if they aren’t enforced, they don’t mean anything. And the Reproductive FACT Act is far too important not to be enforced.”

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