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Saturday, March 2, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Calif. Ducks Challenge|to Abortion Notice Law

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - A California law requiring health care centers to provide women with information about the availability of free or low-cost family planning services does not violate the free speech rights of anti-abortion health clinics, the Ninth Circuit ruled Friday.

The three-judge panel found U.S. District Judge John Houston wasn't wrong to deny the clinics a preliminary injunction to block enforcement of the law.

"We are very pleased with the decision," Kristin Ford with the California Department of Justice said.

The Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care and Transparency Act (FACT) was signed into law by Brown in October 2015.

It requires licensed health centers to disseminate information to women regarding state programs that provide immediate free or low-cost family planning services, prenatal care and abortions.

Additionally, the law requires unlicensed centers to expressly indicate they are not licensed as medical facilities in California.

The information can be distributed one of three ways: posting it at the clinic, printing and handing out information to patients, or by posting the information online.

The law authorizes the state attorney general, county counsel or city attorney to sue facilities that fail to comply. Health centers cannot be criminally prosecuted for violating the act, however, and are only subject to civil penalties.

Violators will be fined $500 on the first offense and $1,000 thereafter.

National Institute of Family and Life Advocates, Pregnancy Care Center and Fallbrook Pregnancy Resource Center sued the state in the present case. Other clinics that have sued to block the law in Northern California were unsuccessful in Federal Court, and appeals to the Ninth Circuit were rejected.

Writing for the panel, Circuit Judge Dorothy Nelson said the law doesn't discriminate against religious-based groups, nor does it interfere with free speech rights.

"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," she wrote.

But most importantly, Nelson said, the clinics failed to show in their request for a preliminary injunction that their claims are likely to succeed on the merits. This tests arises out of Winter v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., which establishes four factors for determining whether a preliminary injunction should be issued.

"Because appellants cannot show a likelihood of success on the merits or 'serious questions' going to the merits of their First Amendment claims, we need not discuss the remaining Winter factors," Nelson said.

Matthew Bowman with the Alliance Defending Freedom, who argued on behalf of the clinics, said in a statement: "It's bad enough if the government tells you what you can't say, but a law that tells you what you must say - under threat of severe punishment - is even more unjust and dangerous. In this case, political allies of abortionists are seeking to punish pro-life pregnancy centers, which offer real hope and help to women. Forcing these centers to promote abortion and recite the government's preferred views is a clear violation of their constitutionally protected First Amendment freedoms."

Bowman added that the alliance is looking at the possibility of an appeal.

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