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9th Circuit panel denies CPCs' request to block Calif. FACT Act

A three-judge panel for the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday in a unanimous opinion rejected a challenge to a California law (AB 775) aimed at protecting women from misleading practices by antiabortion-rights crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs), the Los Angeles Times "L.A. Now" reports (Dolan, "L.A. Now," Los Angeles Times, 10/14).

The ruling upholds a federal district judge's decision to deny the CPCs' motion for a preliminary injunction against the law (Dinzeo, Courthouse News Service, 10/14).

Law details

California's Reproductive FACT Act requires licensed facilities that provide services related to pregnancy and family planning to let women know how and where they can access affordable and timely abortion, contraception and prenatal care services.

The law requires unlicensed facilities that provide pregnancy- and family planning-related services to tell patients the facilities are not licensed and that they have no staff members who are licensed providers. Such facilities are required to disseminate a notice to patients at the facility and in any digital or print advertising materials stating, "This facility is not licensed as a medical facility by the State of California and has no licensed medical provider who provides or directly supervises the provision of services."

CPCs that do not comply with the law are subject to a $500 fine for the first offense and a $1,000 penalty for any offense thereafter. The state attorney general, county councils and city attorneys have the authority to enforce the law.

CPCs have filed multiple legal challenges against the law, several of which have been rejected (Women's Health Policy Report, 7/29).

Case details

Three CPCs -- the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates, Pregnancy Care Center and Fallbrook Pregnancy Resource Center -- challenged the law in federal court in Southern California. The groups' motion asked the court to block city, county and state officials from enforcing the law, which the CPCs contended violated their freedom of speech and religion.

In February, U.S. District Court Judge John Houston rejected the case, denying the groups' motion for a preliminary injunction against the law (Women's Health Policy Report, 2/17). The CPCs appealed the ruling (Courthouse News Service, 10/14).

In June, a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit heard the appeal. During arguments, lawyers representing CPCs claimed that the law violates the centers' right to free speech by requiring CPCs to convey a government message.

State Deputy Attorney General Noreen Skelly (D) rejected that argument. She said the law requires CPCs to disclose "neutral, objectively factual information" about access to abortion care and "takes no position on whether carrying a [pregnancy] to term is better than abortion" (Women's Health Policy Report, 6/16).

Ruling details

In upholding the lower court ruling against the CPCs' request for a preliminary injunction, the appeals court held that the law does not violate the CPCs' rights to freedom of speech or freedom of religion ("L.A. Now," Los Angeles Times, 10/14).

In the ruling, the panel wrote that the notice required by the law "is closely drawn to achieve California's interests in safeguarding public health and fully informing Californians of the existence of publicly-funded medical services" (Thanawala, AP/Sacramento Bee, 10/14). The judges stated, "California has a substantial interest in the health of its citizens, including ensuring that its citizens have access to and adequate information about constitutionally protected medical services like abortion" ("L.A. Now," Los Angeles Times, 10/14).

The judged continued, "We reject appellants' arguments that they are entitled to a preliminary injunction based on their free speech claims. The act is a content-based regulation that does not discriminate based on viewpoint" (Courthouse News Service, 10/14). The judges explained that law does not discriminate against CPCs based on their antiabortion-rights stance because it applies to all licensed pregnancy clinics, not only those that oppose abortion rights (AP/Sacramento Bee, 10/14).

According to the judges, the notice the law requires clinics to post "informs the reader only of the existence of publicly-funded family-planning services." The panel continued, "It does not contain any more speech than necessary, nor does it encourage, suggest, or imply that women should use those state-funded services."

The court also rejected the CPCs' challenge to the law's requirement that unlicensed facilities disclose that they are unlicensed ("L.A. Now," Los Angeles Times, 10/14).

Matthew Bowman -- an attorney with the Alliance Defending Freedom, who represented the CPCs -- said that the organization is considering appealing the ruling (Courthouse News Service, 10/14).