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Hawaii Senate Passes Bill Forcing Church to Refer Women to Abortion Clinics

On Wednesday, the Hawaii Senate passed a bill forcing pro-life pregnancy resource centers (PRCs) to refer women to state-provided medical assistance programs which include abortion. This law is particularly troubling because one PRC in Hawaii is actually housed inside a church, so the law would mandate that a church post a notice referring women to a service which includes abortion.

"The Hawaii State Senate has tragically joined with California and Illinois to force pro-life pregnancy resource centers to become abortion referral agencies," Tom Glessner, president and CEO of the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA), said in a statement. But the repercussions of this law go beyond free speech and squarely into violations of religious freedom, not just in general but against a church specifically.

"The Hawaii effort to suppress free speech is especially concerning because one of the state's pro-life centers is housed in a church — which means the church itself would be forced to refer for abortions," Glessner explained. "This is an egregious violation of religious freedom."

The Democrat-controlled Hawaii Senate passed the bill by a remarkable margin of 22-3 on Wednesday. It was then sent to the House of Representatives, where it is expected to pass.

The bill would threaten pregnancy centers with a $500 first-time penalty and a $1,000 penalty for future infractions, forcing PRCs to post a notice to women seeking care at their facilities. The mandated notice would read:

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.

This bill would apply to all five PRCs in Hawaii, three of which submitted testimonies against the bill — which were not posted in time for the committee vote. This further compounded the message of censorship: not only would these PRCs be forced to advertise for abortion clinics, but their protests against the law were allegedly illegally silenced.

"In its rush to appease Big Abortion, the Hawaii legislature is running roughshod over the First Amendment rights guaranteed to its own citizens," Jor-El Godsey, president of Heartbeat International, an affiliation network of PRCs which includes the Hawaii centers, told LifeNews. "If the state can force its own people to violate their own deeply held religious convictions by advertising for abortions, then free speech and free religious exercise are effectively dead."

As Glessner noted, Hawaii is not the first state to pass such a law. A similar measure passed in California in October 2015, and NIFLA is challenging it, all the way to the Supreme Court.

Like the Hawaii bill, California's Reproductive FACT (Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care, and Transparency) Act mandates that any facility which provides ultrasounds or prenatal care to pregnant women, or that provides counseling about contraception, or offers pregnancy testing, is required to post the following notice (emphasis added):

California 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 determine whether you qualify, contact the county social services office at [insert the telephone number].

Like Hawaii's bill, the California law penalizes facilities which do not post such a notice within 30 days — a $500 fine for the first offense, and $1,000 for each subsequent offense.

Glessner, the NIFLA president, said the law violated both free speech and religious freedom. He argued that the U.S. Supreme Court has always held compelled speech to be a violation of the First Amendment. "The government cannot compel you or me or a church to present a message that it wants you to present and you disagree with," he told PJ Media. "It just can't do that. That is an absolute violation of your First Amendment rights."

If these bills violate First Amendment rights, why do Democrats support them? Some outlets have branded PRCs as "fake clinics," and argued that this bill would force them to "stop breaking privacy laws."

PRCs provide many services, however, including confirmation of pregnancy through ultrasound services, along with testing for sexually transmitted infections (STIs). "Some of them are providing STI testing and treatment services, they all provide counseling, material resources, cribs, baby clothes, maternity clothes, accessories, referrals for adoption, referrals for legal help, referrals for housing," Glessner explained.

The centers exist to provide needed care and counseling to women struggling with crisis pregnancies. If refusing to provide abortion makes them "fake clinics," that's a rather misleading characterization.

NIFLA is challenging the California bill in the Supreme Court, and Glessner told PJ Media he expects arguments to begin in the Fall of this year. If the Court strikes down California's statute, it likely would also invalidate the Hawaii law, saving PRCs and this one church from mandated pro-abortion speech.

Glessner summed up the impact of such laws in a chilling declaration: "If you disagree with government policy, we're going to make you agree, and if you don't agree we're going to fine you and close you down. That's tyranny." Let's hope the Supreme Court sees it this way.