SAN DIEGO, Calif. — Josh McClure started the Pregnancy Care Clinic in San Diego with a desire to support women facing unplanned pregnancies and help save lives. The clinic estimates that 75 percent of the women it serves who are at risk for choosing an abortion end up choosing life for their babies.
So McClure was concerned when he learned that state lawmakers were considering a bill that would require pro-life crisis pregnancy centers to post information on how to get an abortion. He immediately began plans to head to the state capitol in Sacramento to protest the legislation. That protest turned out to be short-lived.
Bill Fast-Tracked and Passed
"We quickly realized that it was being fast-tracked and moved through very quickly and that they were very set on getting it passed," he told CBN News.
After lawmakers passed the bill, McClure and more than 100 pro-life pregnancy centers in California discovered they would have to either post an abortion notice in their waiting rooms or give clients a printed or digital notice.
US Supreme Court to Hear Case
They've since headed to court, asking for the law to be overturned, with no success. Now, they're making their case before the Supreme Court which will hear arguments on March 20.
So what exactly is the state asking the clinics to say?
Here's the statement that California requires its pro-life pregnancy centers to post or print : "California has public programs that provide immediate free or low-cost access to comprehensive family planning services, prenatal care and abortion for eligible women. To determine whether you qualify, contact the county social services office at ____."
"It sends a mixed message," McClure said, "a confusing message."
It's Like 'Lung Association Being Forced to Promote Cigarettes'
McClure found it "outrageous" that the state wanted his clinic to provide abortion information and a phone number to clients upon arrival. "It's like the American Lung Association being forced by the government to promote cigarettes. It's contrary to what they believe," he said.
Anne O'Connor serves as general counsel for the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA), the organization that oversees about 1,500 pregnancy centers around the country. She's representing the California pregnancy centers before the high court.
It's About More than Abortion; It's About Free Speech
O'Connor argues that this case is about more than just abortion. She says it's about how Americans are protected under the First Amendment.
"If the government can tell us what we have to say, even when it's opposed to why we exist, then everyone is vulnerable, not just pregnancy centers," she told CBN News.
Why the law?
The state of California says more than 700,000 Californian women become pregnant each year and half of the pregnancies are unintended. It also says that many low-income women don't know about free or low-cost public programs for pregnant women, including abortion. Lawmakers hoped the law would help alert pregnant women to these programs that they might not otherwise know about.
The liberal Ninth Circuit court upheld that thinking when it ruled in favor of the law. It said the abortion notice helps "in safeguarding public health and fully informing Californians."
Forced Notice Serves as an Advertisement
Alliance Defending Freedom senior counsel Kevin Theriot is also representing the pregnancy centers in court and says the abortion notice goes beyond the facts and actually serves as an advertisement.
"They are presenting it as a viable option if they have it on the wall of their waiting room," he told CBN News, "They may not even get a chance to explain how they counsel women regarding the three options and what their views are on abortion before they say, 'oh I can just call and get a free or reduced cost abortion. I might as well do that."
The Ninth Circuit justifies the law as a professional speech regulation. It also cites among the state's concerns that crisis pregnancy centers "often confuse, misinform and even intimidate women from making fully informed, time-sensitive decisions."
Maintaining Safe Havens for Women
O'Connor says it's just the opposite. "These centers are very clear about what they do and they're safe havens for women are being bombarded with other messages," she said.
More than 2,500 pregnancy centers serve pregnant women and new moms around the country. They provide a range of free services, including counseling, ultrasounds, parenting classes and clothes for both moms and babies.
Many are also licensed medical facilities, which means they can offer pregnancy testing and the all-important ultrasound. O'Connor says those services not only confirm a woman's pregnancy, they also allow her to see her child.
"It just opens doors and when women see that they go 'oh, I could never have an abortion," she said.