March 22, 2019
OCR Issues Notice of Resolution to the State of Hawaii After Hawaii Takes Action in Safeguarding Conscience Protections for Pregnancy Care Centers
The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced today that it issued a Notice of Resolution to the State of Hawaii after Hawaii took corrective action in response to OCR’s investigation of complaints of discrimination by the state against non-profit pregnancy resource centers.
Complainants, Aloha Pregnancy Care and Counseling Center, Inc. and Calvary Chapel Pearl Harbor, filed a complaint with OCR alleging that Hawaii engaged in impermissible discrimination under one or more of federal conscience laws when Hawaii enacted the notice requirements of Act 200, a 2017 law which required them to disseminate a government-scripted notice that promotes abortion – a service for which they do not offer, counsel, recommend, or refer. The Complainants are pro-life and dedicated specifically to providing women options other than abortion.
OCR’s new Conscience and Religious Freedom Division initiated an investigation into the allegations under OCR’s authority to enforce the Weldon and Coats-Snowe Amendments. As a result of OCR’s investigation, on March 15, 2019, Hawaii’s Attorney General issued a memorandum to the Department of the Attorney General for the State of Hawaii, which is charged with enforcing Act 200, stating that it will not enforce Act 200’s notice provisions against any limited service pregnancy center.
The Hawaii Attorney General also committed to notify Hawaii’s legislature of its decision not to enforce Act 200’s notice provisions against any limited service pregnancy center.
Hawaii’s actions follow the Supreme Court’s ruling in National Institute of Family & Life Advocates v. Becerra, 138 S. Ct. 2361 (2018) (NIFLA), which held that a California law similar to Hawaii’s Act 200 likely violated pregnancy resource centers’ Free Speech rights. The action also follows stipulated permanent injunctions, entered by the U.S. District Court for the District of Hawaii against Act 200 in separate litigation in September 2018, against Hawaii enforcing the Act against the plaintiffs in the lawsuits. Hawaii’s action in response to OCR’s investigation commits the state to respect the rights of every pro-life pregnancy resource center in the state, not just the particular parties covered by the injunctions. As a result, OCR now considers the complaints before it as satisfactorily resolved, and will be closing the matter.
Roger Severino, director of OCR stated, “Although Hawaii should never have burdened the rights of nonprofits seeking to provide pregnant women life-affirming options, we commend Hawaii for committing to not enforcing Act 200’s notice provisions against anyone, in response to our investigation.” Severino continued, “OCR takes allegations of conscience violations seriously. We encourage other states to take a hard look at their own laws and make sure that they do not violate federal conscience and religious freedom statutes in health and human services.”