March 23, 2018

Supreme Court Must Uphold Commonsense Consumer Protection Law

David Chiu California Assemblymember, sponsor of the Reproductive FACT Act

This week, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in NIFLA v. Becerra, over the FACT Act a law that I co-sponsored in the California Assembly. The Reproductive Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care, and Transparency Act passed the California State Legislature in 2015 with overwhelming support from legislators, then-Attorney General Kamala Harris, and 48 reproductive rights, women’s health, and social justice organizations. It’s been tied up in litigation ever since.

The FACT Act is a straightforward consumer protection law based on the legislature’s belief that people should have access to medically accurate information and that anyone who claims they provide medical advice and/or medical care is held to a high standard of honesty and professionalism. The FACT Act simply requires facilities to disclose whether there is a licensed medical professional supervising the facility or, in some cases, to post a small neutral notice about the availability of comprehensive state family planning and prenatal care programs available in California. A no brainer to protect pregnant women at a vulnerable time in their lives and their families.

Almost immediately after the FACT Act was passed in 2015, the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA)and others sued to block the law, claiming that the disclosure requirements violated their First Amendment rights, both because they compel speech content that conflicts with their anti-choice beliefs and because they believe the disclosure law targets fake women’s health centers because of their anti-choice beliefs. Four separate lower courts rejected their arguments, and U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9thCircuit affirmed the lower courts’ rulings. The Supreme Court agreed to hear whether the disclosures violate the free speech clause, but declined to hear the challenge on the freedom of religion clause.

Fake women’s health centers are not singled out by the FACT Act, but they worry about violating the law because of their deceptive tactics and refusal to simply provide pregnant women and their families with accurate medical information about pregnancy or pregnancy or family planning programs that provide the full range of options. These are part of a well-funded national network – and there are more than 2,700 across the country and in every state.

The people who shame and deceive women at fake women’s health centers are often the same people who protest and confront patients outside of family planning clinics. They regularly harass women and their families as they enter and leave those clinics, screaming at them and showing them graphic photos to shame or scare them. And, while these anti-choice activists are entitled express their agenda, they cannot be allowed to prey on women, lie about medical facts, and delay access to comprehensive reproductive or prenatal care.

Fake women’s health centers have a long and well-documented history of preying on pregnant women at a vulnerable time in their lives. They use intentionally misleading websites and advertisements to make women believe that they provide information about their full range of options. In reality, these websites and ads obscure the centers’ real agenda and ideology. Even women and their families who do their research can inadvertently end up at fake women’s health centers.

Fake women’s health centers give women scientifically inaccurate medical information, including claiming that abortions cause infertility, breast cancer, or mental disorders. A new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine issued just last week said that there is no scientific evidence to those claims. Some centers even tell pregnant women that one in four pregnancies ends in miscarriage, suggesting they wait it out rather than get an abortion. And, many of these health centers perform ultrasounds with the sole purpose of manipulating women to not have an abortion. These centers postpone appointments or give women inaccurate due dates to push them past important deadlines.

No one should be allowed to deceive a pregnant woman about her health and pregnancy options, or give a woman at a vulnerable time in her life the runaround instead of the information she seeks. The FACT Act ensures that women and their families are made aware of the comprehensive family planning services, including prenatal care, birth control, and abortion, offered by the state of California.

States, including California, require many types of businesses from auto shops to spas to post notices or licenses. Why should facilities that advertise that they provide a service as important as pregnancy-related medical services be any different? Fake women’s health center shouldn’t be given a special and broad exemption from common sense rules that protect everyone.

Equality and Liberty, Reproductive Rights