Hawaii Pregnancy Centers Call on Judiciary to Uphold Free Speech Rights

By Jay Hobbs

Arguing before a federal court Friday in Honolulu, attorneys with Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) called on the judiciary to hold off enforcement of a 2017 Hawaii state law that forces pro-life pregnancy centers to advertise taxpayer-funded abortions to clients.

The law, which applies to five locally run and funded pregnancy centers—including one that operates as a ministry of Calvary Chapel Pearl Harbor—went into effect July 11.

The next day, Calvary Chapel filed suit to stop the law, which pro-life advocates say strips pro-lifers of key First Amendment rights while endangering a woman’s right to access life-affirming care.

While no decision has been announced from the bench as of the end of day Friday, Thomas Glessner, J.D., the founder and president of National Institutes of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA) called the state’s attempt to force pro-lifers to advocate for abortions an “egregious violation… of constitutional religious and free speech rights.”

“The price of non-compliance in the face of this violation of the First Amendment is severe: Calvary Chapel faces fines and the loss of their medical license for noncompliance,” Glessner said. “This punishment would harm not only Calvary Chapel, but also the vulnerable pregnant women to whom this pro-life group provides free counseling and care.”

Mirroring a 2015 California law, Hawaii’s edict forces locally funded pregnancy centers to post and distribute to each client a notification that the state offers free abortions, as well as a website link on where and how to schedule a taxpayer-funded abortion.

The mandated signage and disclaimer form must include the following verbiage:

This clinic does not provide abortion services or abortion referrals. Only ultrasounds performed by qualified healthcare professionals and read by licensed clinicians should be considered medically accurate.

Hawaii has public programs that provide immediate free or low-cost access to comprehensive family planning services including all FDA-approved methods of contraception, prenatal care, and abortion for eligible women.

To apply for medical insurance coverage that will cover the full range of family planning and prenatal care services, apply on-line at mybenefits.hawaii.gov.

Unlike abortion businesses, the state provides no funding for the pregnancy centers it targets with the law.

Pregnancy centers found out of compliance could be slapped with a $500 citation for a first-time offense and a $1,000 per-offense fine for subsequent refusal to advertise abortions. The law also opens up noncompliant centers to individual civil suits.

In addition to NIFLA and ADF’s challenge, the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) has also filed a state-level lawsuit on behalf of Aloha Pregnancy Care and Counseling Centers.

Though the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals—the nation’s most-reversed circuit court—upheld California’s law in October of 2016, pro-lifers are hopeful the Supreme Court will take up a request to hear the case, with an announcement to come as early as Sept. 25.

In addition to the law in California and the bill in Hawaii, the state of Illinois gutted its Healthcare Right of Conscience Act in 2016 to allow all pro-life medical professionals—including those at pregnancy centers—to be liable to civil penalties if they refuse to counsel on the so-called “benefits” of abortion and refer their patients directly to local abortion businesses.

A federal judge handed down a statewide injunction July 20 that holds off Illinois from enforcing its mandate.

“We urge both the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and the U.S. Supreme Court to step up where lawmakers in Hawaii, California, and elsewhere have failed to protect the constitutional rights of free speech and religious freedom,” Glessner said.

From the beginning of its journey through the legislature this spring, the political motivations of Hawaii’s crackdown have been difficult to ignore. Prior to one senate committee meeting, for instance, pregnancy center leaders saw their testimony withheld from the committee altogether.

Even as pro-lifers were kept from defending their own ministries against the state’s attack, the senate allowed testimony from pro-abortion lobbyists, including staff members at Planned Parenthood Northwest and Hawaii—a vocal supporter of the legislation.

“The fact that we did not have a voice in that decision is very concerning,” Joy Wright, executive director at Malama Pregnancy Center, said at the time. “Even if they’re for the bill, it’s very important that we have a voice. We are abiding by the process put together by the state legislature, and so if it’s not followed through on the other side, then we have a problem that needs to be addressed.”

Editor’s note. This appeared at Pregnancy Help News and is reposted with permission.