Pregnancy Resource Centers – Courtroom Challenges to Pro-Life Ministry

Profile of pregnant mother

Should the government force pregnancy centers to advertise for abortions?

In 2015, the state of California did just that. The FACT Act required pro-life pregnancy resource centers (PRC) to put up signage in waiting areas explaining to women that they could get free- or low-cost government-funded abortions. Most pregnancy resource centers are connected to Christian ministries and opposed to advertising for the state's abortion industry.

In June 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court in NIFLA v. Becerra overturned the California law. It was a big legal victory after years of similar cases across the country. Over the last several years, local and state regulations have made it increasingly difficult for pregnancy centers to offer women the help, support and hope that they need in the midst of an unplanned pregnancy.

Here are some of the ordinances and restrictions leveled against pregnancy resource centers:

San Francisco Ordinance:

In 2011, San Francisco passed an ordinance designed to restrict PRCs from engaging in what the city considered false or misleading advertising by statement and omission. City Attorney Dennis Herrera said, "These so-called crisis pregnancy centers engaged in insidious and deceptive practices to trick women in decisions about their bodies. Reproductive rights are human rights. They must be protected now more than ever."

Pro-life pregnancy care clinics in San Francisco openly acknowledge their mission, but pro-abortion activists argue that they target women searching for abortion services "through false advertising—and then employ manipulative and fear-mongering tactics on their visitors to dissuade them from obtaining abortions." According to San Francisco officials, they offer nothing but "anti-abortion rhetoric."

First Resort Inc., one of the city's pregnancy resource centers, sued San Francisco over the ordinance. The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the ordinance and the U.S. Supreme Court recently declined to hear an appeal of that ruling. The regulations in San Francisco aren't affected by the NIFLA v. Becerra decision because the city's regulations surround advertising and commercial speech, not protected speech about ideas.

Evergreen Association, Inc. v. City of New York:

In March 2011, the New York City Council passed Local Law 17, which required PRCs, but no other medical clinics, to post a sign giving patients certain information. The requirements included informing women if there was "a licensed medical provider on staff," and that the city "encourages women who are or who may be pregnant to consult with a licensed provider" for prenatal care. They must also disclose whether they provide or refer abortions, emergency contraception or prenatal care.

The information should be displayed at the entrance and in waiting rooms, advertisements and during telephone conversations. In 2016, the law went on to additionally require that the notice be made on 11 x 17 paper, shared orally with patients, and included on every website page and in each social media post, in English and Spanish. If a clinic is fined three times in two years for violating these requirements, the city could temporarily shut down the pregnancy clinic for up to five days.

In 2018, the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs issued its first $1,500 fine to EMC Frontline, a pro-life facility in the city, for failing to post the required notices at their facilities and online. The president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of New York City applauded the decision. An additional investigation of another pregnancy care center is currently pending. It's unclear whether the NIFLA decision will impact this law.

Calvary Chapel Pearl Harbor v. Chin - Hawaii

Hawaii SB 501, a law that closely resembles the California FACT Act just ruled unconstitutional in the NIFLA case, requires pregnancy care centers to post large notices and signs that direct women to a state agency where they can get abortion referrals and funding. Some of the signs read that the state of Hawaii could provide women with low-cost access to family planning services, which includes abortion-inducing drugs, and the web address and phone number of places that could provide those services. On September 20, 2018, the law was struck down by a federal district court due to the recent U.S. Supreme Court case NIFLA v. Becerra. "This is another huge victory for America's pro-life pregnancy centers - not just in Hawaii, but nationwide," NIFLA Vice President Anne O'Conner said.

The state has also come under investigation by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) for compelling pregnancy centers to advertise abortions. The law forces medical personnel to act against their conscience or religious beliefs, which could cost Hawaii its federal funding.

Illinois SB 1564

This law forces pregnancy care centers, medical facilities and physicians to provide women with a list of abortionists, even if the medical professional has an ethical objection. A federal court eventually suspended the law after an appeal by Alliance Defending Freedom. ADF-allied attorney and co-counsel Noel Sterett said, "The government has no business forcing pro-life doctors and pregnancy care centers in Illinois to operate as referral agents for the abortion industry."

City of Elgin, Illinois

In 2012, the city of Elgin enacted a city zoning code that required a pregnancy center to stop its mobile operations. According to the Chicago Tribune, there were no complaints about the mobile pregnancy center before the ordinance went into effect. Several city council members who voted in favor of the new zoning code didn't know that it would affect the ultrasound bus run by the center. The ordinance was challenged and an Illinois federal court ruled it unconstitutional and unenforceable.

Baltimore, MD.

Passed in 2009, a Baltimore law required pregnancy care centers to post signs saying that they do not provide or make referrals for abortion or birth control. After years of federal court litigation, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals determined that the ordinance was unconstitutional. According to the court, "the city has not identified a single example of a woman who walked into the center's waiting room believing that she could obtain an abortion there." The city enacted the law in what officials called an unfounded attempt to "address deceptive advertising and reduce the potential health risks from waiting too long to have an abortion."

U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) – Vermont

In 2013, the USDA denied a pregnancy care center a building loan. Although the center fully qualified for the loan, it was denied solely because a voluntary Bible study would be held in its facilities. The USDA's National Appeals Division determined that the agency wrongly denied the center the loan, and settled a lawsuit with the pregnancy center.

Conclusion

Although the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision in NIFLA v. Becerra is a step in favor of protecting PRC ministries, pro-abortion activists continue to produce material that challenges the legitimacy and work of pro-life pregnancy centers. For example, Self.com recently published an article titled, "It's Legal for Crisis Pregnancy Centers in California to Lie to You about Abortion." This inflammatory title and the use of statements like "forced-birth agenda" discourages women from finding out that abortion is not their only option. It also indicates that the smear campaign against pro-life pregnancy care centers in the courts and the media is far from over.