WASHINGTON — The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is investigating the state of Hawaii for passing a law believed to require pro-life pregnancy centers, in violation of their purpose and mission, to post information pointing women to government family planning programs that might include contraception and abortion.
“Under federal regulations, OCR is designated to receive complaints based on the federal laws that protect conscience and prevent coercion, including the Weldon Amendment, the Coats-Snowe Amendment, and the Church Amendments,” HHS recently wrote to Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) in response to a complaint filed on behalf of A Place for Women, a pro-life pregnancy center in Waipio.
“OCR has reviewed the complaint and has determined that it has sufficient authority and cause to investigate the allegations under one or more of these laws,” it stated. “Therefore, we have initiated an investigation…”
Last September, ADF filed the complaint in light of concerns over S.B. 501, which requires all “limited service” pregnancy centers to post or distribute a notice that reads in part:
“Hawaii has public programs that provide immediate free or low-cost access to comprehensive family planning services, including, but not limited to, all FDA-approved methods of contraception and pregnancy-related services for eligible women. To apply online for medical insurance coverage, that will cover the full range of family planning and prenatal services, go to [website].”
The notice must include the web address and phone number where women may obtain such assistance.
While the bill as passed did not specifically mention abortion, some worried that the “pregnancy-related services” mentioned in the legislation included abortion and/or referrals to abortion providers since the original version of the bill used the word “abortion” in its place.
ADF therefore filed a legal challenge on behalf of A Place for Women and the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates, and also submitted a complaint with HHS.
“A Place for Women in Waipio provides medical and other services in conformance with its religious convictions that all human life should be respected in all stages of life, included life within the womb. These convictions prohibit A Place for Women in Waipio from performing, assisting in, referring for, or participating in any way with abortion or abortion-causing drugs,” the complaint read.
“The rights of A Place for Women in Waipio to offer medical assistance to women in need without compromising their religious convictions relating to abortion or abortion-causing drugs are protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and the Constitution of the State of Hawaii, in addition to the federal conscience laws,” it said.
ADF requested that HHS advise them on any action that it might take concerning the matter.
Now, the HHS Office for Civil Rights has noted that it believes there is enough cause for an investigation, which it has now launched.
“No one should be forced to provide free advertising for the abortion industry—least of all pro-life pregnancy centers,” said ADF Legal Counsel Elissa Graves in a statement on Monday. “Furthermore, the law simply doesn’t allow it. States that require pro-life doctors and staff to act contrary to their conscience don’t qualify for federal funds. HHS is right to take action in light of the obvious violations of the Church and Weldon amendments.”