Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer on Monday unveiled a campaign to crack down on anti-choice crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) violating California’s five-month-old public notice law on abortion access.
CPCs across California have so far unsuccessfully sued to block a reproductive disclosure law, and Feuer on Monday acknowledged reports that some jurisdictions have chosen not to enforce the law while the five court challenges are pending. Feuer said his office last week sent notices to six Los Angeles-area pregnancy centers informing them of the consequences of violating the law, known as the Reproductive Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care, and Transparency (FACT) Act.
“We’re not going to wait,” Feuer told those gathered for a press conference in his downtown Los Angeles office. “Here in Los Angeles we know that waiting for a day, a week, or a month to enforce this law threatens the health and safety of women.”
The law requires the state’s licensed CPCs to post a brief notice about the availability of birth control and abortion care, and for unlicensed centers to disclose that they’re not medical facilities. Violators face civil penalties of at least $500. Enforcement is left to the state attorney general, city attorneys, and county counsels.
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Feuer said his office would conduct investigations in tandem with the Los Angeles County Department of Consumer and Business Affairs, but declined to be more specific. He encouraged Angelenos to report violators to his office.
Between six and eight CPCs operate in the City of Los Angeles and around 25 are run in Los Angeles County, according to estimates from a representative of NARAL Pro-Choice California. There are upwards of 1,200 CPCs across the country, according to their own accounting.
Federal and independent investigations have caught CPC staff lying about the so-called risks of abortion care. Until recently, a person who Googled “abortion clinic” might be directed to a CPC. Reports of the centers’ deceptive tactics helped spur the passage of the FACT Act in October. The law went into effect January 1, 2016.
“Every day that a women fails to get full and complete information … is a day that a woman’s life can be endangered,” Feuer said.
Los Angeles City Councilwoman Nury Martinez told reporters Monday that her office last year fielded complaints about two Los Angeles centers that told clients that abortion care wasn’t an option. One client carried to full term as a result, Martinez said.
Feuer’s office sent notices to Avenues Pregnancy Clinic, Los Angeles Pregnancy Services, Claris Health, Pregnancy Counseling Center, Open Arms Pregnancy Clinic, and Harbor Pregnancy Help Center. Three of centers that Rewire contacted on Monday said they were unable to comment and referred a reporter to the Alliance Defending Freedom, an Arizona-based nonprofit that has spent millions in legal campaigns to criminalize abortion and deny rights to LGBTQ people.
The Alliance did not respond to a request for comment.
Tabitha Phillips, CEO of Claris Health, one of the six centers mentioned by Feuer’s office, said the facility offers information about abortion care and has complied with the law since it went into effect January 1.
An investigation last year into Los Angeles Pregnancy Services, one of the CPCs targeted by Feuer’s office, described how the facility tricked a women with a high-risk pregnancy into delivering her fifth child. Last month, Rebecca Plevin of the local NPR affiliate KPCC found that six of eight area pregnancy centers are defying the FACT Act.
When questioned about compliance with the law, Alliance Senior Counsel Matt Bowman told Plevin, “All I can confirm is that many of these centers have said, in their court papers, we cannot refer out women and their unborn children for the destruction of the child, paid for by the state of California.”
Officials from the faith-based centers claim in court filings that the FACT Act violates their freedom of speech and religion. Operators of CPCs have said they’d rather close than comply.
“It does go against what we’re all about,” Marie Leatherby, executive director of the Sacramento Life Center, told the Sacramento Bee when it reported in March that the center was flouting the law. “Our mission is about helping women carry their children to term.”