In California, less than two-thirds of counties have an abortion clinic. But nearly 80% have at least one “crisis pregnancy center,” according to a database compiled by CalMatters.
Abortion rights advocates and lawmakers have long accused these centers — also known as anti-abortion centers — of coercing vulnerable people into remaining pregnant by misleading them about abortion procedures and contraceptive methods. In rural areas with acute primary care shortages, “crisis pregnancy centers” outnumber abortion clinics 11 to 2, a CalMatters analysis shows.
While center supporters vehemently deny the accusations about misleading pregnant people, they’ve become the next battleground for California lawmakers bent on protecting abortion rights and offering services for people who live in states where abortion is banned.
“They’re the next way in which the anti-abortion movement will try to stop people from getting access to abortion here,” said Assemblymember Rebecca Bauer-Kahan, a Democrat from San Ramon and member of the Women’s Legislative Caucus, which has spearheaded the state’s legislative push for enhanced abortion protections.
Regulating “crisis pregnancy centers,” however, has proven to be exceptionally challenging even in the nation’s self-proclaimed “abortion safe haven.”
This legislative session, two bills attempting to regulate the centers died quietly in the Assembly Appropriations Committee, including one authored by Bauer-Kahan. Officially, no one knows why the bills were killed in the Legislature’s opaque suspense file maneuvers, in which votes are not public, but it’s no secret that Democratic lawmakers are fearful of passing laws that might spur litigation from abortion opponents. Even before the U.S. Supreme Court’s conservative majority overturned Roe v. Wade, abortion opponents had used the courts to steadily chip away at abortion protections.
“Even a state like California is treading very carefully,” said Margaret Russell, an associate constitutional law professor at Santa Clara University. “Who wants to waste public resources on a lawsuit going up to the Supreme Court with the risk that the law would become even worse?”
Alexandra Snyder, CEO of Life Legal Defense Foundation and former director of a pregnancy center in Santa Clarita, said the bills had clear “legal problems (and) constitutional problems” and would be “tied up in the courts at tremendous expense for the next five years….”