RIVERSIDE, Calif. — A superior court judge in California has ruled that a state law requiring pro-life pregnancy centers to provide information about government abortion programs runs afoul of the California Constitution.
“Here, the State commands clinics to post specific directions for whom to contact to obtain an abortion. It forces the clinic to point the way to the abortion clinic and can leave patients with the belief they were referred to an abortion provider by that clinic. … In Scharpen’s case that would be inaccurate, profoundly inaccurate,” wrote Judge Gloria Trask.
She said that there are other ways for the government to get its message out besides forcing those who are opposed to abortion to provide the information.
“Compelled speech must be subject to reasonable limitation,” Trask said. “The statute compels the clinic to speak words with which it profoundly disagrees when the state has numerous alternative methods of publishing its message. … In this case, however virtuous the State’s ends, they do not justify its means.”
As previously reported, in 2014, Gov. Jerry Brown signed the Reproductive FACT Act into law, a measure that has been dubbed the “bully bill” by pro-life groups in the state. The bill had been authored by Democratic Assemblyman David Chiu, who outlined in the law that he takes issue with pregnancy centers that don’t provide abortion referrals to women.
“The author contends that, unfortunately, there are nearly 200 licensed and unlicensed clinics known as crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) in California whose goal is to interfere with women’s ability to be fully informed and exercise their reproductive rights, and that CPCs pose as full-service women’s health clinics, but aim to discourage and prevent women from seeking abortions,” it reads.
The legislation therefore requires that licensed pregnancy care centers provide the following message to clients in print: “California has public programs that provide immediate free or low-cost access to comprehensive family planning services (including all FDA-approved methods of contraception), prenatal care, and abortion, for eligible women. To determine whether you qualify, contact the county social services office at (telephone number).”
But Scott Scharpen, pastor at Rock Valley Christian Church in Murietta and founder of Go Mobile for Life, said that he could not comply with the requirement and therefore went to court to challenge the law. Go Mobile for Life operates a mobile pregnancy center that provides free ultrasounds to women.
“I will not post that notice in our clinic. I would rather close the clinic than post that notice,” he said in a statement released by his attorneys with Advocates for Faith and Freedom. “Now, by law, we are required to provide referral information to a woman for services that we find morally and ethically objectionable, namely abortion.”
“If the California state government gets away with telling pregnancy clinics what to say and even how to say it, then ALL faith-based businesses are at risk of being bullied into delivering the government’s mandated speech,” Scharpen stated. “We must stand up and fight this unconstitutional law for the benefit of all people!”
On Monday, Judge Trask ruled in favor of Scharpen, declaring that “[t]he legislature may not use the wall of the physician’s office as a billboard to advertise the availability of low cost abortions.” She declared the Reproductive FACT Act to be in violation of Article 1, Section 2 of the California Constitution, which reads, “Every person may freely speak, write and publish his or her sentiments on all subjects, being responsible for the abuse of this right. A law may not restrain or abridge liberty of speech or press.”
Scharpen applauded the ruling, which he characterized as a “huge victory for free speech.”
“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. Lives will be saved because of this ruling,” he said.