Schiavo’s pregnancy center bill prompts press conference, apology demand

Canyon High School students Jade Rodriguez (right) and Celine Sanchez speak to Mark Fortier about services available at SCV Pregnancy Center during the SCV Youth Project's Game of Life event on Monday, April 29, 2019. Tammy Murga/ The Signal

A bill authored by Assemblywoman Pilar Schiavo, D-Chatsworth, that aimed to raise awareness about pregnancy centers in California has died in the appropriations phase, but Schiavo’s stance has alarmed local facilities and officials.  

The Santa Clarita Valley Pregnancy Center, in response, is planning a press conference for Wednesday, along with Mayor Jason Gibbs, in which they’ll demand an apology from Schiavo.  

Assembly Bill 710 would have required the California Department of Public Health to conduct a campaign to inform local health care facilities and the public about pregnancy centers, provide accurate information in regard to reproductive health care and resources for how to access it.  

“This is simply a public information campaign,” said Schiavo during a committee hearing for the bill. “This is not restricting them in any way. It is making sure that anyone who is pregnant knows where they can get certain kinds of information. If they want factual information, medically based information, about abortion, they should know where they could get it.” 

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

Jenna Sickenius, communications director for Schiavo, said in a phone interview Monday the $5 million to $8 million cost identified for the campaign was cited as an issue. Gov. Gavin Newsom’s May Revise of the state budget indicated California is projected to have a $32 billion shortfall next year. 

During her opening statement when presenting the bill, Schiavo said “fake pregnancy centers present themselves as medical clinics” when they are “not licensed medical clinics.” 

While she made no direct reference to the Santa Clarita Valley Pregnancy Center during Assembly Bill 710’s introduction, she did accuse the SCV Pregnancy Center of misleading women.  

According to Schiavo, 75% of crisis pregnancy centers in California don’t have a licensed medical professional on site. While the SCV Pregnancy Center is licensed and has a licensed physician on site, according to the California Family Council, Schiavo expressed that it didn’t matter.  

“The one in our district specifically states in the fine print on the bottom of their website — after they advertise ‘Free Health Services’ — that their ‘services do not include extended OB/GYN or prenatal care,’ and that, ‘The information on this website is intended for general education purposes only and should not be relied upon as a substitute for professional and/or medical care or advice,’” wrote Schiavo in a statement to The Signal. “So licensed or not, these crisis pregnancy centers are bringing women in by using misleading language about providing care when really, they only offer ultrasounds to ‘confirm a pregnancy,’ which then leads to misleading conversations about abortions and the woman’s choices, regardless of what’s best for her and her family.” 

According to Schiavo’s office, crisis pregnancy centers outnumber abortion clinics in California by 20%. The California Family Council reported there were 162 centers across the state and 87 of them are licensed.   

Greg Burt, director of capital engagement for the California Family Council, a conservative lobbying group that aims to advance “God’s design for life, family, & liberty” — called Schiavo’s attacks on unlicensed facilities unfounded, given the ones in her district were licensed, in a statement released by the organization Tuesday. 

“Ironically, the only two pregnancy care centers in Schiavo’s legislative district are medically licensed by the state of California. Both clinics also clearly state on every page of their websites that they do not provide abortions,” he stated. “The SCV Pregnancy Center has repeatedly invited Schiavo to tour their clinic to see for herself, but she has repeatedly ignored the invitations.” 

Angela Bennett, CEO of the SCV Pregnancy Center, said the press conference on Wednesday will be in regard to the now-dead bill and Schiavo’s claims.  

“We will hold a press conference to defend and highlight the good work that the SCV Pregnancy Center does for the Santa Clarita Valley. This is in response to our (assemblywoman) who authored and testified on behalf of her bill AB 710, stating that pregnancy centers like ours are ‘fake clinics,’” read a statement written by Bennett. “This, and other accusations in her testimony are false and undermine the reputation of pregnancy centers throughout the state. We would like to set the record straight.” 

Schiavo did not mention the SCV Pregnancy Center specifically when making claims about such pregnancy centers.  

During the bill’s hearing in the Assembly’s Appropriations Committee, the comments from the author, Schiavo, described pregnancy centers as a threat to women’s rights following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last year to overturn Roe v. Wade.  

“The whole way in which the crisis pregnancy centers operate is based in misinformation — they lure women into their centers with ultrasounds, just to talk them out of having abortions,” Schiavo wrote. “Women having the facts about where they can actually seek abortion care completely undermines their whole business model.” 

Burt said the organization is opposed to any pregnancy centers that are intentionally misleading women.   

“We don’t know who she’s talking about,” said Burt. “If we find out there’s a pregnancy center that’s lying and deceiving women, we are just as against it as she would be. But she can’t name one. Like who’s doing this? So if there is an isolated incident of some pregnancy center, somewhere who is not being upfront and honest in labor, lying about the services they provide to trick women into coming to get an abortion and then finding out later that they don’t do abortions, call them out, name them.” 

In regard to the backlash she’s received in the wake of her bill, Schiavo said their anger is rooted in the perceived threat to its business model.  

“Our community clearly and unequivocally supports comprehensive abortion access. That’s why an overwhelming majority of Californians recently voted to establish a right to reproductive freedom in our constitution,” wrote Schiavo. “Our bill, AB 710, is simply a transparency bill that would have told people where they can get medically accurate abortion information and access. If that kind of simple transparency measure is conjuring this sort of outrage from centers across California, then that’s because it threatens their business model of deceiving patients.” 

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