WASHINGTON – Dr. James Dobson, the extraordinarily meek Christian psychologist and perhaps the most well-known family counselor in America, called Tuesday for civil disobedience by operators of pro-life crisis pregnancy centers in response to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision upholding a California law that calls for them to promote abortion to woman they serve.
“If California attempts to enforce this law then do not comply,” he said. “Make them put you in jail.”
The state law is called the “Reproductive FACT Act, and was signed by Gov. Jerry Brown Oct. 9, 2015, and reviewed and upheld Friday for constitutionality by the Ninth Circuit, widely regarded as the most “progressive” federal court of appeal in the country.
The law went into effect Jan. 1, 2016, but has been largely unenforced while municipalities waited out a series of lawsuits challenging the law’s alleged infringement on free speech rights guaranteed by the Constitution’s First Amendment. This is the fifth time a challenge has been turned away by the courts starting last December.
The law specifies that 75 pro-life pregnancy centers offering ultrasounds – all of which are state-licensed entities that operate completely free of taxpayer funds – post or disseminate a state-mandated disclaimer notifying women in unexpected pregnancies of state-covered abortions and contraception offered through Medi-Cal.
The clinics, mostly operated by Christians, would be required to violate their deeply held religious beliefs by giving their patients the phone number of a county social services agency where they can obtain an abortion – a requirement the centers say amounts to an abortion referral, opponents of the legislation have maintained.
“Christians across America must express their outrage at the Ninth Circuit Court’s ruling to uphold California’s so called ‘Reproductive FACT Act,’” said Dobson in a written statement early Tuesday morning. “This decision will require 150 pro-life crisis pregnancy clinics across the state to promote abortion services to the women they serve.”
He added: “Since Roe. V. Wade, privately funded crisis pregnancy centers across America have provided a refuge and an alternative to women who might have otherwise chosen abortion. They are vitally important in the fight to promote a culture of life, adoption and health. This ruling now forces these clinics to violate their sincerely held religious beliefs, and it is an affront to our constitutionally mandated rights to life and to religious freedom.”
“This decision is further affirmation of the importance of this presidential election,” he said. “Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump will be responsible for appointing the replacement of Antonin Scalia, and – in all likelihood – two to three other Supreme Court Justices. That court will eventually decide whether or not this remains the law in California and becomes law across America.”
Dobson, founder and president of Family Talk, a nonprofit organization that produces his radio program, “Dr. James Dobson’s Family Talk,” is the author of more than 30 books dedicated to the preservation of the family. Dobson served as an associate clinical professor of pediatrics at the University of Southern California School of Medicine for 14 years and on the attending staff of Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles for 17 years. He has been active in governmental affairs and has advised three U.S. presidents on family matters. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Southern California in 1967 in the field of child development. He holds 17 honorary doctoral degrees, and was inducted in 2008 into the National Radio Hall of Fame. He also founded Focus on the Family, but left the organization several years ago.
“This law – and laws like it – violate the U.S. Constitution, and they are a violation of our Christian conscience, and this ruling is yet another example of the power of activist judges,” said Dobson. “I encourage anyone with a voice to use it and to do so urgently. I have a simple word of advice to those pastors, priests and others who run California’s crisis pregnancy centers. If California attempts to enforce this law then do not comply. Make them put you in jail.”
As many as 100 community-funded pregnancy centers that do not offer free ultrasound services will be compelled to post and disseminate a statement notifying clients and even website visitors that they do not offer medical services – a stipulation similar to a 2009 Baltimore law that was struck down as unconstitutional.
“It’s bad enough if the government tells you what you can’t say, but a law that tells you what you must say – under threat of severe punishment – is even more unjust and dangerous,” said Matt Bowman, senior counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, which argued the case before the Ninth Circuit on behalf of the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates in June and successfully defended non-profit pregnancy help organizations in Baltimore, as well as Montgomery County, Md., Austin, Texas, and New York City.
Bowman had expressed hope for the California law to be overturned after a summary judgment effectively spelled the end of Baltimore’s attempt to force pregnancy centers in its city to post signage in late September.
A similar law is on the books in Illinois, where it is slated to go into effect Jan. 1, 2017. In the case of the Illinois law, pro-life medical professionals of every stripe will be required not only to counsel as to the “benefits” of abortion, but be prepared to provide each client with an updated list of abortion providers.
Heartbeat International, a network of 2,000 pregnancy help locations, has affiliates in both California and Illinois, the latter of which president Jor-El Godsey has urged to refuse to comply with the state’s demands.
Several local pro-life efforts have said they will refuse to post the signage, despite pressure from the state. The penalty for refusing to comply with the law is $500 for the first offense, and $1,000 per subsequent offense.
Regardless of how each local organization plans to move forward in California, the intent of chilling free speech and free exercise of religion is just as blatant as it is in Illinois, says Godsey.
“It is a devastating reality that lawmakers in California are so beholden to the abortion industry they would be willing to trample on the constitutional rights of their own citizens to promote a culture of death over a culture of choice and life,” Godsey said. “The refusal of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn this wicked law sets a dangerous precedent for anyone who would speak an unpopular message in our society.”
Thomas Glessner, who serves as president of the Institute for Family and Life Advocates, the named plaintiff in the lawsuit against state Attorney General Kamala Harris, said that even in spite of the loss in the Ninth Circuit, legal remedies still exist to keep the state from imposing its will on pro-life centers.
“It is unfortunate, but not surprising, that the liberal Ninth Circuit Court three-judge panel upheld California’s violation of federal law, the U.S. Constitution, and human rights,” Glessner said. “The ‘Reproductive FACT Act’ forces pregnancy resource centers and medical clinics to violate consciences, free speech, and religious beliefs. This violation of the foundational roots of the American Republic will not stand.
“This battle is far from over.”