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Supreme Court case challenges a California abortion law

The Supreme Court agreed to hear a case earlier in November about requiring all clinics in California including crisis pregnancy centers to inform women about reproductive health services including abortions. (Daily Bruin file photo)

By Alexandra Tryggvadottir

Nov. 29, 2017 1:09 a.m.

UCLA experts and student leaders said they think a Supreme Court case challenging a California abortion law would have negative effects on women’s reproductive health.

The California Reproductive Freedom Accountability, Comprehensive Care and Transparency Act, which passed in 2015, requires all clinics in the state of California to inform women about the range of reproductive health services the state offers, including abortions. The Supreme Court agreed to hear a case filed by the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates earlier in November arguing the law should be repealed. The group, which provides legal advice to crisis pregnancy centers, is claiming the law violates clinics’ First Amendment rights by requiring them to promote a view of abortion they may disagree with.

The law was created in response to 200 crisis pregnancy centers in California that often misinformed and intimidated pregnant women to discourage them from having abortions, according to the California State Legislature.

The State Legislature’s analysis of the bill defines crisis pregnancy centers as anti-abortion organizations that offer a limited range of free pregnancy options and counseling, and typically do not offer abortions.

Seana Shiffrin, a professor of law and philosophy, said she was surprised the Supreme Court accepted the case because she thinks NIFLA’s argument that the act violates the First Amendment is weak.

NIFLA argues the law discriminates against crisis pregnancy clinics based on their anti-abortion viewpoints because the law does not apply to clinics that provide a full range of reproductive services.

Shiffrin said she thinks the group’s argument that the law is discriminatory based on viewpoint is not well grounded because it would be repetitive to require clinics that already provide abortions to post where to get abortions.

‘’You can see why a clinic that already provides comprehensive reproductive health services would be exempt from being required to disclose where such services are offered,’’ Shiffrin said.

Julie Cantor, a lecturer in the School of Law, said she thinks the Supreme Court took the case in order to set a clear standard for lower courts to follow when ruling on cases related to whether abortion disclosures violate the First Amendment.

“The Supreme Court steps in when different courts have different rules or apply rules in a different way,” she said.

Cantor said if the Supreme Court declares the law unconstitutional, the State Legislature will have to think of different ways to inform women of reproductive health resources while following the standard set by the court.

“Patients are just going to have to get savvy about learning about what options are available to them,” she said. “Reporters would have to write news stories about clinics that don’t provide information about these resources.”

Shiffrin added she thinks the California law is less intrusive on First Amendment rights than laws in other states that require medical staff to verbally inform pregnant women about the potential dangers of abortions. The California law only requires that facts about reproductive health services be posted somewhere in the clinic, and does not require any staff member to deliver them.

Although this is the first abortion-related case the Supreme Court has accepted since President Donald Trump appointed Justice Neil Gorsuch earlier this year, leading to a Republican majority on the court, Shiffrin said she thinks the court will continue to uphold the constitutionality of abortions.

“One should always pay attention to the abortion docket,’’ she said. “But the court has been consistent in their position that the right to abortion is constitutionally protected for the last 44 years.’’

Student leaders said they think the law helps women be fully informed of their reproductive health options.

Celina Baumann, a third-year anthropology student and a member of UCLA Sexperts, a student group that promotes open discussion about sex, said she thinks pregnancy centers should fully inform their clients about their reproductive health options.

She added she understands that private facilities want to be free to advocate for their opinions, but thinks they should still post information so women can make their own decisions about their reproductive health.

“Personally, I am pro-choice and I would not like it if someone told me what I can or can’t do with my body,’’ Baumann said. “That’s why I think women should be able to choose for themselves based on the personal circumstances they are in.”

Grace Harvey, co-director of Bruin Consent Coalition and a fourth-year psychology student, said she thinks repealing the law would be detrimental to women’s health because she thinks women need to know about abortion as an option.

“I certainly believe that accessibility to health care is a right everyone should have,” she said. “And trying to keep people ignorant about their options is not helpful or right.’’

Harvey added she thinks the law is especially important for students because she thinks they should be aware of every resource available to them and be able to choose between them.

The Supreme Court will rule on the law’s constitutionality in June.

Contributing reports by Rupan Bharanidaran, News editor.

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Alexandra Tryggvadottir
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