Hawaii Mandates Contraception Education, Conservative Christians Sue

Pregnancy-care centers by law have to tell clients about access to birth control and abortion. Pro-life groups say that tramples on their religious freedom.

Photo Illustration by Sarah Rogers/The Daily Beast

Last week Hawaii Gov. David Ige signed a law into effect requiring pregnancy-care centers inform clients about all available reproductive health services, including access to contraception and abortion.

Conservative Christian groups are not happy.

A day after the law took effect, the Alliance Defending Freedom filed a lawsuit on behalf of A Place for Women in Waipoi, a church-operated crisis pregnancy center, and five other Hawaiian centers affiliated with the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates.

They argue that the new law infringes on the centers’ rights to free speech and exercise of religion.

Those who don’t comply can be fined $500 for a first-time offense and $1,000 for any subsequent act of noncompliance. The law also allows pregnant women to sue noncomplying clinics they received services from for damages.

“State sponsored anti-life activists are so in love with abortion that they want to suppress the free speech rights of pro-life pregnancy centers in Hawaii and force them to become abortion referral agencies,” said NIFLA president Thomas Glessner in an April statement. “They cannot tolerate the existence of life-affirming pregnancy centers that give mothers contemplating abortion hope and support as they are empowered to choose life.”

The law was submitted by Hawaii’s Women’s Legislative Caucus and requires that all centers providing pregnancy- or family-planning related services inform their clients of access to state reproductive health programs. According to the text, the legislation is designed to ensure women can “make and implement informed, timely, and personally appropriate reproductive health decisions.”

Specifically, the law wants women to be aware of Hawaii’s Med-QUEST program, which helps low income women receive free or low-cost pregnancy or family planning related care.

Hawaii Rep. Della Au Belatti, a member of the Hawaii Women’s Legislative Caucus, said the bill was introduced after hearing concerns that women were not getting information about available health services, as well as concerns that their health information was not being protected.

“We struck a balance and we’ve written a law that applies to a range of clinics and providers,” she told The Daily Beast. “The gist of the law is: one, to protect patients health information, which I think everyone agrees is very important, as well as provide information about where people can get comprehensive family services.”

AFD claims the law specifically targets pro-life care centers and forces them to promote a pro-choice agenda.

“For pregnancy centers dedicated to promoting life, this completely undermines their mission,” AFD wrote in a blog post. “It violates their right not be be compelled to speak a message that contradicts their faith.”

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Claims by anti-choice activists that their free speech is under attack when “states pass laws that tell women the truth about health care” are not new, according to Alexandra De Luca, a spokesperson for EMILY’s List, a political action group that works to get pro-choice Democratic women elected to office.

AFD and NIFLA have challenged comparable laws in California and Illinois with the same arguments. The organizations, along with other crisis pregnancy centers, sued California after it passed a similar law in 2015 designed to ensure pregnant women knew all their options. The law was eventually upheld in California’s 9th District Court of Appeals.

Last year, however, an Illinois court granted a preliminary injunction against a similar law applying to religiously affiliated pregnancy-care clinics. Christian groups are still challenging the law, which was meant to take effect in January.

Crisis pregnancy centers like Hawaii’s A Place for Women in Waipoi, which offers services like free pregnancy testing, counseling, adoption referrals, abstinence education, and “post-abortive recovery classes,” are not licensed medical centers. These centers have frequently been found to use misleading strategies and inaccurate information to promote a pro-life platform and steer women away from getting abortions.

Sometimes crisis pregnancy centers use vague advertising to attract women they designate “abortion-vulnerable” and try to mislead patients into thinking they are licensed health care centers.

“These are really just clinics in name only,” De Luca told The Daily Beast. “It’s a message tested name for a building where there are people who are trying to stop women from getting an abortion or accessing birth control. They try to trick women into thinking they’re real... They use shady unscientific facts to try to convince women they shouldn’t have abortions or access to birth control... and they use shady tactics to try to circumvent the regulations hospitals and abortion clinics have to abide by.”