Pregnancy Center holds conference to respond to bill 

SCV Pregnancy Center CEO Angela Bennett shares her concerns Wednesday with recent statements from Assemblywoman Pilar Schiavo, who took aim at pregnancy centers throughout the state with her recent bill, Assembly Bill 710. The bill died last Thursday after a hearing in the Assembly's Appropriations Committee. Perry Smith/ The Signal

The SCV Pregnancy Center held a news conference Wednesday calling for an apology in response to criticism last week from Assemblywoman Pilar Schiavo, D-Chatsworth, who said she would never apologize for working to ensure women have access to medically accurate information, in response to her authorship of Assembly Bill 710. 

Schiavo’s bill would require “the (Public Health) department to conduct an awareness campaign to communicate with local health departments, health care providers and the public regarding facilities that provide health care services, including, but not limited to, primary care and specialty clinics,” according to the state website

About two dozens of the SCV Pregnancy Center’s supporters showed up to its Valencia office on Wednesday. Perry Smith/ The Signal

Schiavo’s office responded by questioning whether the center’s leadership read her bill, which she said didn’t target “crisis pregnancy centers.” She described it as a “transparency bill” in her statement to The Signal on Wednesday afternoon.  

“AB 710 was simply a transparency bill that would have directed the California Department of Public Health to initiate a public information campaign to ensure people know where they can get medically accurate abortion information and access,” she said. “I’d really like to know why there is so much outrage and opposition to a simple transparency bill whose intent was merely to provide the public with facts and information about abortion health care.”  

The bill died in committee last week, with a spokesperson from Schiavo’s office citing the $5 million to $8 million cost of the campaign as its main obstacle in a state facing a more than $30 billion budget deficit. 

State Assemblywoman Pilar Schiavo, D-Chatsworth, speaks to the audience gathered after she is sworn in at her community swearing-in ceremony at the College of the Canyons University Center in Valencia, Calif., on Saturday, Jan. 14, 2023. Chris Torres/The Signal

But not before the bill roiled the leadership of a local pregnancy center and its supporters. 

SCV Pregnancy Center CEO Angela Bennett took umbrage with several statements Schiavo made in support of her legislation, as well as aiming their own criticism at Schiavo for disparaging the center without meeting its team first. 

Bennett, holding up the center’s medical license at one point, called Schiavo’s attacks “judgmental and discriminatory” during the news conference, noting the SCV center doesn’t support any clinics that are considered “bad actors” and that “guilt by association” isn’t how things should be judged. 

“AB 710 was authored and testified to by Assemblywoman Pilar Schiavo, and she seeks to expose fake clinics. Any organization outside of the standards set by the California Department of Health should be exposed and I applaud those efforts,” Bennett said. “I would personally confront any organization, any medical clinic representing themselves as licensed if they are not licensed. But to leverage charges against all clinics like one that may not be licensed, and group them all together is inappropriate.” 

In response, Jenna Sickenius, a spokeswoman for Schiavo who attended Wednesday’s news conference, said afterward the local pregnancy center reached out to Schiavo’s office May 16. 

However, the legislation was killed after its hearing in the Appropriations Committee two days later, she said, adding legislators’ schedules are often drawn up months in advance. 

Schiavo’s office seemed somewhat surprised by the backlash on the bill and her statements that seemed to target the local organization, especially after the bill died. Sickenius said Schiavo is planning to meet with the center’s representatives at a future date, adding it wasn’t yet on the schedule. 

A member of Schiavo’s team said the origin of the bill wasn’t the local center specifically, but when asked for a statement Tuesday in response to the center’s news conference, Schiavo called the center’s language and intent “misleading,” a charge Bennett repeatedly denied Wednesday. 

Santa Clarita Mayor Jason Gibbs, who was initially listed as a speaker at the news conference, said he was a supporter of the center but unable to attend Wednesday. He also said he was unfamiliar with the bill, which the city is not expected to consider as part of its executive and legislative platform.  

Joe Messina, a member of the local organization for the Republican Party, speaks at Wednesday’s conference. Perry Smith/ The Signal

A spokesman for Rep. Mike Garcia’s office also indicated a representative from his office would not be attending despite a previous announcement otherwise by the center.  

In terms of the future of her efforts, on Wednesday, Schiavo said she didn’t know what the next steps for a future bill looked like yet, but she was committed “to continuing to protect the reproductive rights and choices of all Californians.” 

She also said she looks forward to “talking with SCV Pregnancy Center to discuss how we ensure women have accurate information and full access to all the reproductive health care, including abortion care, when they need it.” 

Trevor Morgan contributed to this report. 

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