Attorneys filed a complaint on Monday with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services asking the agency to protect the free speech rights of pro-life doctors and women’s health clinics from states governments trying to force them to promote abortion.
The Alliance Defending Freedom has filed state and federal lawsuits challenging such laws, but said the Trump administration can also take action to ensure the First Amendment rights of pro-life medical practitioners are upheld.
“Government officials shouldn’t be allowed to force anyone to provide free advertising for the abortion industry,” ADF legal counsel Elissa Graves said in a statement. “Furthermore, federal law simply doesn’t allow it. States that compel pro-life doctors and staff to act contrary to their conscience do not qualify for federal funds. We have filed these complaints to inform HHS of what is happening so that it can take action.”
Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner, a Republican, signed SB 1564 into law in July of last year.
The legislation compels pro-life doctors and pregnancy centers to tell their patients about the availability of state-sponsored abortions. Pregnant women must be informed of the “benefits” of abortion, the law says, and given the names of doctors willing to perform the procedure.
Hawaii’s SB 501, signed into law by Democratic Gov. David Y. Ige in June, requires pro-life doctors and clinics to post large signs or provide fliers in their offices directing patients to a state agency that provides abortion referrals.
Courts have issued injunctions blocking the Illinois law from taking effect. Similar statutes have been invalidated in Austin, Texas; Montgomery County, Maryland; Baltimore; and New York City.
Earlier this year, ADF asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review a case involving a California law that compels the speech of pro-life doctors and clinics.
Monday’s petition argues that the laws violate federal law and the U.S. Constitution. If the Trump administration agrees, it could put the federal funding, including Medicaid reimbursements, of the offending states at jeopardy.
Progressives argue the laws are necessary to inform women about all of their reproductive health options.
Lorie Chaiten, director of the ACLU of Illinois Reproductive Rights Project, said the legislation ensures that women will have “complete information, so that they can make the best medical decisions for themselves and their families.”
Groups affected by the Hawaii legislation include Calvary Chapel Pearl Harbor, which houses a pro-life pregnancy center in its church.
“Now our particular pro-life center is in our church,” Rev. Derald Skinner, pastor at the church, said in a video message earlier this year. “So it’s very important to realize that they are dictating to us what we can and cannot say. Will they give me my sermon next and tell me what I can preach?”
ADF filed a lawsuit on behalf of Calvary Chapel Pearl Harbor in June.
Laurie Field, Hawaii Public Affairs Manager at Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest and Hawaii, said without the law women who go to pro-life pregnancy centers for care are “walking into a trap.”
“Thankfully, our elected officials recognized this and, in passing this law, ensured that everyone has access to accurate and private information about their bodies and their health care,” Ms. Field said in a statement.
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