OCR Finds the State of California Violated Federal Law in Discriminating Against Pregnancy Resource Centers
Today the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced that it found that the State of California violated the federal conscience protection laws known as the Weldon – PDF and Coats-Snowe – PDF Amendments. This is the first time since the launch of the new Conscience and Religious Freedom Division a year ago that OCR has found a violation under these laws. This matter arose from complaints filed by Sacramento Life Center, LivingWell Medical Clinic, Pregnancy Center of the North Coast, and Confidence Pregnancy Center alleging that California subjected them to potential fines and discrimination for refusing to post notices referring for abortion.Among the facilities sited was Living Well Medical Clinic in Grass Valley as sited in the CA Notice of Violation.
California adopted the Reproductive Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care, and Transparency Act (the “FACT Act”) on October 9, 2015, which required pregnancy resource centers that met the FACT Act’s definition of “licensed covered facilities” to post notices stating that California provides free or low-cost family planning services and abortion. The FACT Act also required pregnancy resource centers that constituted “unlicensed covered facilities” under the Act to post notices in advertisements and communications. A violation of the FACT Act threatened civil fines of $500 for a first offense and $1,000 for each subsequent offense.
Caring for Women Means Honoring Health-Care Choices, by Eliane Sierra
The landmark Roe v. Wade decision was made on Jan. 22, 1973, 43 years ago. It is commonly recognized as the Supreme Court ruling that affirmed every woman’s Constitutional right to reproductive choice in the United States.
Yet, our state legislature concluded just last year that a new law was needed to provide additional safeguards for women to access timely pregnancy care and related healthcare information. The Reproductive FACT Act became that law.
In our view, the FACT Act (for Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care and Transparency) is a welcome assurance that all California women are able to exercise the choice guaranteed to them under Roe. And, by promoting informed decision making, it protects a broader public interest, that of women’s health. It empowers women to make their own best healthcare choices for themselves and for their families.
The law does this by requiring licensed clinics to provide clients with information about California’s comprehensive family planning services, prenatal care and abortion services. And it requires licensed clinics to notify patients about available financial assistance and specific contact information for those services, enabling prompt access to needed care. The FACT Act also requires that unlicensed facilities that provide pregnancy-related care inform their clients that they are not licensed medical facilities and have no licensed provider on staff. Who would deny that, when women get timely, accurate pregnancy-related information, and access the care they need without undue delay, they and their families are healthier? The FACT act simply ensures that all California women get the basic facts they need about accessing timely pregnancy-related care.
How soon women get into care affects maternal and infant health, including mortality and morbidity. In Nevada County, an alarmingly high 25 percent of births were to mothers having late or no prenatal care, compared to 16.4 percent in California as a whole (according to the most recent Nevada County Health Status Report by the Health and Human Services Agency, for 2010-2012). Providing earlier access to prenatal care would help to reduce infant mortality and improve pregnancy outcomes.
The FACT act simply ensures that all California women get the basic facts they need about accessing timely pregnancy-related care.
Like the overwhelming majority of Californians, we believe that women should have rights to accurate information about pregnancy-related care. And, we support the FACT Act as one means of protecting those rights.
There is a wealth of information showing the extent of the deceptive practices of many crisis pregnancy centers. According to a Sacramento Bee editorial last October, for example, “… undercover investigators sent by NARAL Pro-Choice California into 45 crisis pregnancy centers in California found that 72 percent falsely told women that abortion was linked to depression, 46 percent repeated the myth that abortion is linked to breast cancer and 35 percent claimed abortion was linked to infertility, which is untrue.”
The law was slated to go into effect on Jan. 1, 2016. Three federal lawsuits and one in Riverside County Superior Court were filed in October 2015, soon after the FACT act was signed, on behalf of several crisis pregnancy centers that provide pregnancy-related counseling and services. In three of the four cases, judges denied requests for preliminary injunctions in December. In the fourth case, a pending preliminary injunction is scheduled for hearing on Jan. 25 in San Diego. Since none of the injunctions has been granted to date, the law has in fact gone into effect, while the court cases proceed.
Let us hope that the victory for California women that the FACT Act represents is not delayed further, or overturned, in the pending lawsuits.
Elaine L. Sierra. J.D. is the public policy director of Nevada County Citizens for Choice. She lives in Grass Valley.
AB 775 (Chiu, Burke), Reproductive FACT (Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care, and Transparency) Act (CPC required disclosures)
Co-Authors: Atkins, Rendon, Wood
Sponsors: NARAL Prochoice CA, Black Women for Wellness
Requires certain licensed providers of pregnancy-related services to provide specific information (by posting or distributing) to those served about their reproductive health rights, including:
(1) rights under the Reproductive Privacy Act to use birth control, bear a child or have an abortion; and
(2) health insurance coverage of reproductive health services for lower-income individuals, with a contact phone number.
Further requires unlicensed providers of pregnancy-related services to clearly post and include in their advertising a statement that they are not medical facilities licensed by the state of California and do not have a licensed medical provider on staff.
The bill aims to ensure that California women receive the information they need to make well-informed decisions regarding their pregnancy options and obtain the care they need. One reason the bill is needed is to make prospective and current clients of crisis pregnancy centers aware that the centers are not medical facilities, are not licensed, and do not provide prenatal care or comprehensive reproductive healthcare or referrals. Noncompliance by either type of facility is subject to fines: $500 for the first violation if not corrected within 30 days, and $1,000 for subsequent offenses.
POSITION: Support. Notified sponsor via email on 3/09/2015.
STATUS: Enacted in 2015, effective January 1, 2016.
The law was challenged in Federal and state courts soon after enactment. Four suits are in federal district courts in California and one is in the Superior Court of Riverside. All courts denied preliminary injunction relief. On March 15, 2016, Citizens for Choice delivered petitions to Grass Valley City Council and Nevada County Board of Supervisors, urging enforcement. About that same time, the Grass Valley City Council settled its suit with plaintiff crisis pregnancy center Living Well, agreeing not to enforce the law until the pending lawsuit involving those parties is finally resolved. As of mid-June, 2016, three local enforcement authorities had settled their cases. In the LivingWell case (Livingwell Medical Clinic v. Harris, Northern District of California), its appeal of the court’s denial of a motion for a preliminary injunction went before the 9th Circuit. ORAL ARGUMENTS WERE HEARD ON March 22, 2018 BY THE SUPREME COURT. COURT DECISION IS PENDING.