Editor's Note: This column was coauthored by Marjorie Dannenfelser.
The year is 1848, the place is Rochester, New York, and you are Frederick Douglass, ardent and eloquent abolitionist and former slave. You publish the anti-slavery newspaper, The North Star – “urged on in our enterprise,” you write, “by a sense of duty to God and man.” With compelling reason, you urge the emancipation of America’s slaves and the foiling of slave owners and the venal slave-catchers who hunt down and return to bondage brave people who have escaped to freedom.
But then disaster strikes. At the behest of the slavery interests, the New York state government enacts a law which, under penalty of ruinous fines that will put you out of business, orders you to post notices in every issue of your newspaper that assert you have no competence to discuss slavery – and what is worse, compels you to offer free advertising for your competitors, the slaveholders and their agents.
Preposterous, you say? No politician in antebellum America would dare propose such a blatant abridgement of First Amendment freedom of speech, such an evident violation of individual conscience? Well, you’re absolutely right about that. No such law, thankfully, was ever directed against Frederick Douglass.
But unfortunately, that was then, and this is now. Today is 2015, not 1848. And a state government – California’s – is indeed weighing such a law. It’s Assembly Bill 775, the “Reproductive Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care and Transparency Act”), and it targets today’s defenders of the defenseless – namely, the pro-life medical clinics and pregnancy counseling centers that offer women and girls compassionate alternatives to the abortionists who would damage their health and destroy the lives of their unborn children.
Source say that the bill was written by a pro-abortion pressure group, NARAL Pro-Choice California. It singles out pro-life facilities. The intent is to put them out of business and deny women an option for life. Under penalty of crippling fines of $500 and $1,000 per “offense,” the bill would make licensed pro-life medical clinics directly contradict their mission, and violate their staff members’ consciences, by having to tell their clients that they can abort their babies for “free” under the state government’s expansive Medi-Cal program, which uses tax dollars to fund nearly 42 percent of all abortions performed in the Golden State.
Pro-lifers rightly want to know how any government body could constitutionally force private entities to refer clients to their competition.
AB775 would also compel pro-life centers that do not need a medical license to cast doubt upon their own qualifications and credibility by having to post the following notice on their sites and in all of their print and digital ads: “This facility is not licensed as a medical facility by the State of California and has no licensed medical provider who provides or directly supervises the provision of services.”
Naturally, pro-lifers ask how any government entity in the United States could constitutionally tell selected private groups what they have to say.
AB775 has passed the California State Assembly and is headed to the State Senate. Pro-abortion Democrats dominate the state legislature, so the bill is likely to pass and then reach the desk of the implacably pro-abortion Democratic Governor Edmund G. “Jerry” Brown, Jr.
That any proposed legislation so blatantly antithetical to Americans’ First Amendment freedoms and conscience rights should get this close to passage is shocking, of course. But there is some hope in the situation. Catherine Short, the able legal director of the Life Legal Defense Foundation, flatly calls AB 775 unconstitutional and says the courts are likely to overturn it. She points out that in 2014 a federal court struck down a Maryland anti-pregnancy center law similar to AB 775 and that, also in 2014, a federal appeals panel invalidated relevant sections of a similar New York City law.
The abortion lobby would have us believe that pro-life pregnancy centers and medical facilities somehow deceive women about abortion. These are the same lobbyists who have been documented telling vulnerable women and girls that the babies in their wombs are mere “products of conception,” “clumps of cells,” “blood clots,” “tadpoles,” or “uterine contents.”
The reality is that pro-life pregnancy centers give women and girls the truth, the caring and the genuine help they need – at little or no cost - in their difficult circumstances.
Frederick Douglass faced much opposition, including one pro-slavery mob that beat him and caused lasting injury to his hand. He never flinched, though; he wrote, “We believe that what ought to be done, can be done.” He added, “I still see before me a life of toil and trials…but, justice must be done, the truth must be told…I will not be silent.”
Those are the exact principles of California’s pro-life pregnancy centers today. AB775 or no, they will continue fighting for the moms they help and the babies they save. They too will not be silent.