LA city attorney: Local pregnancy centers violating state abortion notification law

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The Los Angeles City Attorney's Office has alerted three so-called "crisis pregnancy centers" that they are violating a new state law intended to ensure that women know all of their options when making a decision about an unplanned pregnancy.

"I take this law very seriously. I take violations of it seriously," City Atty. Mike Feuer told KPCC.

"Crisis pregnancy centers have been known to spread false medical information," he said. "I believe extremely strongly that women are entitled to be fully informed about their reproductive choices."

The Reproductive Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care, and Transparency Act requires licensed facilities that provide pregnancy-related services to notify clients that the state offers access to low-cost and free abortions. It requires unlicensed facilities to disclose that they're not licensed by the state to provide medical care.

An attorney for a national group representing pregnancy centers says the state law threatens the facilities' freedom of speech. The centers have challenged the law in state and federal court.

Matt Bowman says the notices required under the FACT Act violate the pregnancy centers’ core beliefs. He represents the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates, an organization that advocates on behalf of pregnancy centers.

"The government has no legal right to force others to communicate messages or promote ideas they disagree with, especially on life-and-death issues like abortion," Bowman says. "A government that does that threatens everyone's freedom of speech."

According to the California ProLife Council, there are 189 crisis pregnancy centers in the state, providing women with services like pregnancy tests, ultrasounds and counseling. Critics say their main goal is to persuade women against abortions.

Earlier this month, the city attorney's office sent letters to Pregnancy Counseling Center in Mission Hills, Los Angeles Pregnancy Center in MacArthur Park and Harbor Pregnancy Help Center in Wilmington. The letters said the centers were not providing the required notification. Feuer said the centers must correct the violations within 30 days or face a civil penalty of $500 for the first offense and $1,000 for each subsequent offense.

A spokeswoman for the state Attorney General's office believes these are the first centers to be notified under the law.

Feuer's letter to Pregnancy Counseling Center informs it that, as a licensed medical facility whose primary purpose is to provide family planning or pregnancy-related services, it must notify clients that, "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."

This notice is supposed to be posted in an obvious place in the waiting room or distributed as a printed document, according to the law.

The letters to Harbor Pregnancy Help Center and LA Pregnancy Services say that, as unlicensed facilities that provide pregnancy-related services, they must make clients aware that "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."

That notice is supposed to be posted in the facility's entrance and in at least one other place where clients receive services, according to the law.

Feuer says he won't disclose his enforcement strategy if centers continue to violate the law but said, "I will pursue all the remedies that I have available to me."

In April, a KPCC investigation found six of eight pregnancy centers were not complying with the law.