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County proposal to explore lawsuits against crisis pregnancy center fails

The San Diego County Administration Building downtown is shown in this undated photo.
Alison St John
The San Diego County Administration Building downtown is shown in this undated photo.

A deadlocked county Board of Supervisors Tuesday rejected a proposal calling for the county to explore lawsuits against crisis pregnancy centers in what was billed as an effort to shut down fraudulent, non- accredited facilities.

After a lengthy public hearing, the board deadlocked on a 2-2 vote on the board letter put forward by Vice Chair Terra Lawson-Remer. She and board Chairwoman Nora Vargas voted yes, while Supervisors Joel Anderson and Jim Desmond voted no.

Supervisors could take up the proposal again at their next regular meeting on Dec. 5, or one in the future. According to a statement from Lawson- Remer's office, "the policy will continue to come back to the Board of Supervisors for a vote at each meeting, unless the author ... requests it be removed from the agenda."


In general, crisis pregnancy centers are considered nonprofit facilities that do not offer abortion as a service or may try to dissuade a woman from having one, according to her office.

On Monday, Lawson-Remer held a news conference to gain support for her board letter calling for legal challenges to the centers' operations.

"They're fake centers pretending to offer reproductive health care advice to women," she said. "Luring unsuspecting women into their doors with misleading information — women who are looking for medical advice, looking for medical help."

However, Carolyn Koole, executive director at Hope Clinic for Women in Fallbrook, said if the board "really wanted to aid women in unsupported pregnancies, they would be promoting pregnancy centers, not trying to shut them down.

"It is a travesty that they are directly targeting centers whose mission is to aid women at no cost solely because they are pro-abortion and we are not," Koole told KPBS.


In a statement after the board's vote, Lawson-Remer said she was "extremely disappointed we cannot take action against these fake, unaccredited, pregnancy centers that are emotionally and physically harming people."

"I am happy Attorney General Rob Bonta is actively involved in holding these bad actors accountable, and I look forward to supporting him in any way possible," Lawson-Remer added.

During the meeting, Lawson-Remer said her proposal was only targeting people operating clinics outside the law that are unaccredited, and not providing medically certified treatment and services.

"Let us be clear: There are a range of services and crisis centers in San Diego County," she added.

Desmond said if there are crisis pregnancy clinic operators violating the law, they should be held accountable. But he said many of the clinics do good work and offer free resources such as diapers.

"I believe pregnant women should have the choice in where they receive care and education in a very difficult time and situation," said Desmond, adding that abortion is legal in California, and no one is being prevented from having that procedure. He said having options is a good thing, "and we shouldn't cancel options we don't agree with," Desmond said.

During a public comment period, dozens of residents — some with anti- abortion organizations — touted the benefits of crisis pregnancy clinics, from offering pregnancy tests to providing other services to pregnant women in need.

One critic accused Lawson-Remer of attempting a "campaign stunt," while others said her board letter was misleading, and didn't mention how many crisis pregnancy centers feature licensed medical professionals.

"How are these centers a threat to you?" one female caller asked Lawson-Remer.

Vargas, who previously served as executive director for Planned Parenthood of the Pacific Southwest, defended Lawson-Remer's proposal.

Crisis pregnancy centers have been deceptive, as they don't offer abortion or comprehensive reproductive care, including birth control, Vargas said.

"Abortion is health care," she said, adding that the board in 2021 voted to declare the county a champion of reproductive freedom.

Vargas also said that Planned Parenthood oversaw programs to support women who decided to carry their pregnancies to term.