California Law Adds New Twist To Abortion, Religious Freedom Debate : Shots - Health News A California law will soon require pregnancy centers that oppose abortion to provide notice to their clients of the availability of abortion services in the state. Clinics are crying foul — and suing.

California Law Adds New Twist To Abortion, Religious Freedom Debate

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


The latest front in the debate over religious freedom is all about an 8.5 by 11 inch piece of paper. It's a notice the state of California will soon require in places known as crisis pregnancy centers.


Those centers are often run by religious organizations. They provide low-cost or free services to pregnant women, and they encourage those women not to have abortions. The new notice would make it clear that abortion is available in the state of California.

MCEVERS: But several of these pregnancy centers are suing the state asking for the law to be struck down. We went to one of the centers that's suing. It's just outside of San Diego. The East County Pregnancy Care Clinic is a Christian organization and a licensed medical facility. It used to be an insurance office. It's on the corner of a busy intersection surrounded by strip malls. A big sign out front says free pregnancy tests. That's how clinic director Josh McClure says they get women in the door.

JOSH MCCLURE: We do get a lot of walk-ins. We get a lot of appointments.

MCEVERS: Josh McClure is not a doctor, and he didn't let us talk to the staff at the clinic, who are either registered nurses or volunteers. He did walk us through what happens if you're a woman who comes to the clinic and thinks you're pregnant. First, you fill out paperwork, McClure says. Then you get assigned a volunteer, again, not a medical professional.

MCCLURE: And they're brought into this room. We call this the library.

MCEVERS: You sit on a comfy couch, there are shelves packed with pamphlets and books.

MCCLURE: We have the, quote, unquote, "bible of pregnancy." It's called "What To Expect When You're Expecting."

MCEVERS: Also, titles like "Let Me Live" and "Life Is Sacred," and there are videos.

MCCLURE: I mean, they're VHS. We hardly ever use any of those things (laughter).


MCCLURE: But if a client comes in and she really, really, really wants to see a, you know, a video of an abortion - OK? - we've got one here.

MCEVERS: After some time in the library, you're taken to an exam room.

MCCLURE: This is exam room one.

MCEVERS: A registered nurse takes a urine sample for a pregnancy test. If it's positive, the nurse tells you there are three options.

MCCLURE: The three options are parenting, adoption and abortion.

MCEVERS: Not where you can get an abortion but the clinic's view of the risks of an abortion and the cost.

MCCLURE: Generally, the further along you go, the more expensive and the more invasive - the more risks there are.

MCEVERS: Like what?

MCCLURE: Risk of sterility is one, perforated uterus is another and then, of course, emotional side effects as well. All the information that we're giving about the side effects is backed by research and referenced.

MCEVERS: That research is detailed in a pamphlet the clinic uses to train its nurses and volunteers. It includes some statements not backed by leading medical organizations including the suggestion that abortion is linked to breast cancer. So after you're told about the clinic's view of the risks of abortion, McClure says, another nurse comes in and tells you about the next step.

MCCLURE: We're ready to schedule an ultrasound for you.

MCEVERS: The ultrasound is just the next room over. The image is projected onto a big flat screen TV.

MCCLURE: When you have an image on a screen, all the cloudiness of, you know, what we're talking about kind of goes away, and they're able to see for themselves, OK, arms, legs, eyes, head. Bingo, that's a baby.

MCEVERS: McClure says, a lot of the time, women who get the ultrasound decide against abortion. Then if you do have a baby and decide to keep it, you can keep coming back to the clinic for two years.

MCCLURE: This is our care closet.

MCEVERS: Oh, wow. What?

MCCLURE: So what you're not seeing on the radio is a...


MCEVERS: Is a room full of stuff.

MCCLURE: A room full of diapers and wipes and baby clothes, blankets and maternity clothes.

MCEVERS: All of these services, from the pregnancy test to the ultrasound to the care closet, are free. None of this would change under the new law that was recently enacted here in California. It's called the Reproductive FACT Act. Instead, what would happen when you first walk into the lobby - you would see a sign that says in 22 point type, California has programs that offer prenatal care, contraception and abortion, with a number to call, or if it's not a licensed medical clinic, the sign would say that. Clinic director Josh McClure says, a sign in the lobby is not how or when he wants his clients to hear about abortion.

MCCLURE: There's a process that we go through with our clients where we do say, OK, this is an option. Now, to put a sign up in our lobby saying this is an option, that's probably not the time that we would bring that up.

MCEVERS: And, McClure says, posting that sign at all goes against everything he and his colleagues believe. One of the people responsible for the law requiring the sign is Autumn Burke. She represents Inglewood in the California State Assembly. She says for her, it all started one day when she went to get her phone fixed at a shop near a clinic that performs abortions. Protesters gave her pamphlets making claims she knew weren't true.

AUTUMN BURKE: It says that abortion causes breast cancer, that if you are on birth control, boys will not like you or they will take advantage of you.

MCEVERS: A few days later, one of Burke's colleagues in the California Assembly asked her to co-sponsor the Reproductive FACT Act.

BURKE: And I thought, you know what? This is timely. Making sure women have the correct information, that's something that we should guarantee all the time.

MCEVERS: Burke says some crisis pregnancy centers do give good help to women who want to have babies, but others give false information to women or pose as clinics even though they don't have a medical license. She says the law is for those bad actors. She says putting up a sign in these centers shouldn't be such a big deal.

BURKE: It's like a wash your hands sign on the wall.

MCEVERS: Or a sign from the health inspector or the buildings department. Brad Dacus of the Pacific Justice Institute could not disagree more.

BRAD DACUS: It's like telling the Alcoholics Anonymous group that they have to have a large sign saying where people can get alcohol and booze for free. It's like telling a Jewish synagogue that, you know, they can have their service and do their thing, but they have to have a large sign saying where people can go to pray to receive Jesus.

MCEVERS: Dacus's organization has also sued the state of California trying to stop the Reproductive FACT Act. Other cities around the U.S. have passed similar laws and have faced similar challenges in court with mixed results. So far, California is the largest jurisdiction in the country to pass a law requiring these centers to tell a woman abortion is available in the state. If it holds up, it could make way for laws like it in other states and cities. But Brad Dacus says, the law should be stopped, even if it has to go all the way to the Supreme Court because it's part of a larger battle for religious freedom.

DACUS: From public schools to the workplace to religious-based institutions like university and colleges, if people are not allowed to carry out their faith and act and actually exercise their faith - not just have their private beliefs but actually exercise their faith - then we really don't have religious freedom.

MCEVERS: The lawsuits against the Reproductive FACT Act are now making their way through the courts.

Copyright © 2015 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.