Suit aims to block law making pregnancy centers ‘advertise’ abortion

PProtesters gather during a rally outside the U.S. Supreme Court during the March for Life in Washington in 2015. (CNS/Leslie E. Kossoff)

Protesters gather during a rally outside the U.S. Supreme Court during the March for Life in Washington in 2015. (CNS/Leslie E. Kossoff)

By Patrick Downes
Catholic News Service

HONOLULU (CNS) — An Oahu pro-life pregnancy resource center and a national network of pregnancy resource centers have filed a federal lawsuit to halt the enforcement of a new Hawaii law that requires such centers to “advertise” contraception and abortion “services.”

Attorneys for Alliance Defending Freedom, a nonprofit legal group that supports religious freedom, the sanctity of human life and other issues, filed the suit July 12 on behalf of a Calvary Chapel Pearl Harbor center called A Place for Women, and the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates, which represents most of Hawaii’s five other pregnancy counseling centers.

The Hawaii Legislature passed S.B. 501 May 4, and Gov. David Ige signed it into law July 11.

It compels Hawaii’s six pregnancy care centers to post or distribute information referring clients to state-provided prenatal services that would include contraception and abortion. Failure to provide this information would incur a fine of $500 for a first offense and $1,000 for each subsequent offense.

The lawsuit, Calvary Chapel Pearl Harbor v. Chin, asks the U.S. District Court for the District of Hawaii to declare S.B. 501 unconstitutional. It lists Hawaii Attorney General Douglas S. Chin and Ige as defendants.

Alliance Defending Freedom also filed a motion July 12 for a preliminary injunction against enforcement of the law while the case is being considered.

“This is a government-compelled speech issue,” said Hawaii Catholic Conference communications director Eva Andrade. “You cannot force someone to post something against their beliefs.”

S.B. 501 requires “limited service pregnancy centers” to display “in a clear and conspicuous place” the following message on letter-size paper in no less than 22-point-size type:

“Hawaii has public programs that provide immediate free or low-cost access to comprehensive family planning services, including, but not limited to, all FDA-approved methods of contraception and pregnancy-related services for eligible women. To apply online for medical insurance coverage, that will cover the full range of family planning and prenatal care services, go to mybenefits.hawaii.gov. Only ultrasounds performed by qualified health care professionals and read by advanced clinicians should be considered medically accurate.”

An alternative would be to give each client a “printed or digital notice” of the message in no less than 14-point-size type.

“Freedom of speech also means the freedom to not express views that would violate one’s conscience,” said Alliance Defending Freedom attorney Elissa Graves in a news release. “Yet, under this law, Hawaii is forcing pro-life centers and physicians to provide free advertising for the abortion industry against their conscience. Because of the First Amendment’s protections, courts have repeatedly rejected these types of laws as unconstitutional.”

According to Alliance Defending Freedom, courts on the U.S. mainland have “invalidated or mostly invalidated” similar laws in Texas, Maryland and New York City.

Hawaii has six pro-life pregnancy counseling centers and all have some kind of religious affiliation. The Pregnancy Problem Center of Hawaii in Oahu was founded by a Catholic, Robert Pearson.

According to their websites, all offer pregnancy tests and counseling. Most advertise adoption information, childbirth classes, abstinence education, and post-abortion recovery counseling. Some offer ultrasound exams.

Some centers explicitly say they do not offer abortions or abortion referrals, while offering information about “abortion methods and risks.”

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Downes is editor of the Hawaii Catholic Herald, newspaper of the Diocese of Honolulu.

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