By Patrick Downes Hawaii Catholic Herald
The Hawaii Catholic Conference has come out against proposed state legislation that would require Hawaii’s faith-based pregnancy counseling centers to post or hand out information that refers clients to contraception and abortion services.
The conference is the public policy voice for the Diocese of Honolulu.
In testimony submitted Feb. 1 by Catholic Conference executive director Walter Yoshimitsu to the Senate Human Services and Health Committee and the Senate Judiciary Committee, Yoshimitsu said the bill, SB 501, “violates First Amendment free speech guarantees by coercing entities and individuals to engage in speech contrary to their own moral and ethical perspectives.”
The bill passed the Hawaii Senate on March 7 with 22 votes in favor, one of which was made with reservations, and three votes in opposition. It now faces deliberation in the State House of Representatives.
The pregnancy counseling centers, of which there are five in the state, are morally opposed to abortion and were established to show women through education and counseling alternatives to abortion.
Opponents of the measure have nicknamed it “the bully bill,” for what is perceived to be heavy handed treatment by the state of small faith-based ministries.
“The bill effectively requires these clinics and their employees to be accessories in the provision of abortion services, in violation of their rights to free exercise of religion,” Yoshimitsu said.
SB 501 required the centers to post the following message on letter-size paper in no less than 22-point type:
“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.”
An alternative would be to give each client a “printed or digital notice” of the message in no less than 14-point type.
Failure to provide this information would incur a fine of $500 for a first offense and $1,000 for each subsequent offense.
Only five centers in Hawaii
The five pro-life pregnancy counseling center in Hawaii are Malama Pregnancy Center, Wailuku, Maui; The Pregnancy Center, Kona, Big Island; A Place for Women, Waipio, Oahu; Pregnancy Problem Center of Hawaii, Waiakamilo Shopping Center, Oahu; and Aloha Pregnancy Care and Counseling Center, Kaneohe, Oahu.
According to their websites, all offer pregnancy tests and counseling. Most advertise adoption information, childbirth classes, abstinence education, and post-abortion recovery counseling. Some offer ultrasound exams.
Some centers explicitly say they do not offer abortions or abortion referrals, while offering information about “abortion methods and risks.”
Stacey Jimenez, the director of operations at A Place for Women, finds SB 501 incomprehensible.
“There is no reason for us to be advertising abortion for the state,” she said of her center which a ministry of Calvary Chapel Pearl Harbor in the Waipio Shopping Center. “That is not our mission. We do not do abortions.”
“The government is supposed to protect our freedom of speech,” she said.
She does not know what prompted the bill but said its proponents have been “making blanket claims” about the centers providing misleading information, among other things, “without ever having talked to us or seeing what we actually do.”
The bill is similar to legislation in California that is now being challenged in the courts.
“It is interesting that they are creating all this ruckus over five little religious organizations,” she said. “We have only contributed to the community. We have only helped. We want our girls to feel special. A lot of girls just need someone to talk to. A lot of them cannot go to their parents. They need a place that is confidential.”
“We have no financial gain in what we do,” she said. “It is true ministry.”
The center cannot prevent a woman from getting an abortion, she said, and the center will not reject her because of it.
“It is still ultimately the girl’s choice,” Jimenez said. But “we tell her about abortion recovery” and that “we are still here for you” for post-abortion counseling.
“It’s kinda crazy” to compel a church that provides “healing classes” for women hurt by abortion to turn around and show them where to get the procedure, she said.
She said that this issue is “bigger” than making a pro-life organization post an abortion-referral notice in its waiting room. It is about the state coercing the church to violate its own beliefs.
Jimenez said she does not know what her church will do if the law passes, noting that the bill is still in process and subject to amendment.