L.A. City Council. Photo courtesy of LACity.org livestream

The Los Angeles City Council approved an ordinance Tuesday that prohibits pregnancy service centers from misleading people about reproductive health services, including abortion, with tactics such as false advertising.

The ordinance, proposed by City Attorney Mike Feuer, takes effect immediately via an urgency clause. The council approved a first reading of the ordinance last week. It will be enforced by Feuer’s office, with fines of $10,000 per violation. It will also allow victims to sue for compensation if they believe they have been misled.

Feuer told the council ahead of the vote that he hopes the law never has to be used.

“Because I hope that when the council passes and mayor signs this ordinance, that every pregnancy center is going to provide only accurate information, will never misrepresent the scope of services that they provide so that no woman is victimized and needs to vindicate her rights — whether through us or on her own,” Feuer said.

The ordinance is a response to the U.S. Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade in June, striking down the federal constitutional right to an abortion that had been in place for nearly five decades. Feuer claimed that some so-called crisis pregnancy centers falsely advertise to women seeking abortions, specifically those who are low-income and in a “very stressful physical and emotional moment in their lives.”

In June, California Attorney General Rob Bonta issued a consumer alert warning of the “limited and potentially misleading nature of the services provided by crisis pregnancy centers.”

“Crisis pregnancy centers often work to attract pregnant Californians into their facilities through vague claims about the information and services they offer,” Bonta said in June. “While crisis pregnancy centers may claim to offer comprehensive reproductive health care services, their mission is to discourage people from accessing abortion care.”

There are at least five crisis pregnancy centers in Los Angeles, Feuer said at a news briefing in August.

The centers may not actually provide abortion resources or referrals, Feuer said. They might not have the proper testing or diagnostics, or have unqualified staff. They could pressure women not to terminate their pregnancies. Ultimately, they could prevent women from receiving life-saving medical care, he said.

“These centers are entitled to express their opinions,” Feuer said. “But they are not entitled to mislead women. They are not entitled to misrepresent the services they provide, putting women who come to those centers into severe consequences.”

Around 6,200 people are projected to travel to Los Angeles County each year for abortion care, according to a UCLA study published in June. The study was based on the likelihood that 26 states would ban nearly all abortions after the Supreme Court’s decision.

“If someone goes to a center thinking that those services are offered, and they’re not, they’ve lost valuable time in this critical moment,” Feuer said at a committee meeting last month. “If someone goes to one of these centers and is pressured into changing their mind, altering their decision-making about this through inaccurate information, precious time is lost. When it comes to reproductive health, time matters. And truth matters. Women’s rights and health cannot be on the line because of misleading information.”

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