New Abortion Clinics Are Being Forced to File Lawsuits to Open Their Doors…in California

The saga of one abortion provider shows how difficult it can be to open new clinics, even in states that have protected abortion rights.

New Abortion Clinics Are Being Forced to File Lawsuits to Open Their Doors…in California
Beverly Hills City Hall. Photo: Wikimedia

In June 2022, after Roe v. Wade was overturned, Beverly Hills lit its city hall pink. California Governor Gavin Newsom (D) has long spoken of his desire to make California a safe-haven for abortion seekers and has signed bills to protect the legal rights of both patients and providers. In April, when the Arizona Supreme Court upheld an 1864 abortion ban, Newsom said he supported legislation to allow Arizona abortion providers to treat their patients in the Golden State. So it’s pretty shocking that a Washington D.C.-based abortion provider that wanted to open a new clinic in Beverly Hills had to resort to suing both its landlord and the city after claiming that city officials conspired with anti-abortion activists to cancel its lease in June 2023. It’s unclear if the clinic will ever open.

Now, as court hearings begin in the case, CalMatters has published emails showing officials discussing the all-trimester clinic in critical terms and setting up multiple meetings with anti-abortion activists.

DuPont signed a lease in September 2022 and spent millions renovating a suite in a Wilshire Boulevard medical building so it could serve Californians who need abortions later in pregnancy, as well as people from around the country who can’t get appointments at clinics, or get turned away because they’re too far along, which is increasingly happening as more abortion bans take effect. The clinic said in its lawsuits that it chose liberal Beverly Hills for their second location because they thought the city would be welcoming.

Instead, anti-abortion activists waged a highly public campaign to try and block DuPont from opening its doors. During a protest on April 10, 2023, the offensively named Survivors of the Abortion Holocaust projected the words “MURDER MILL” onto the side of the building. (Another medical provider in the building offers abortions, but only advertises procedures through 13 weeks of pregnancy.) At a Beverly Hills city council meeting a week later, three opponents urged the city to intervene or else it would develop a “reputation of condoning murder.” One activist, Tasha Barker, a Sacramento woman leading a group called Stop DuPont Clinic, said by phone, “I am asking you to consider how extreme this clinic is, pause the approval of their building permits and place this issue on the agenda for the next city council meeting.”

During the April 18 council meeting, City Manager Nancy Hunt-Coffey sent the council more information about DuPont Clinic, according to emails obtained via public records request by Beverly Hills for Choice, a group of residents who support the clinic. (BH for Choice also shared the emails with Jezebel.) Hunt-Coffey wrote that DuPont offers abortions after 26 weeks and said those are sometimes referred to as “late-term” abortions, though that is medically inaccurate terminology used by anti-abortion activists. She added: “Late-term abortion clinics can be the focus of protests, rallies and unfortunately other more violent actions on occasion.” Ten minutes later, Councilmember Sharona Nazarian (D) responded to Hunt-Coffey, asking, “How did this get through?” She replied, “Well, it’s a private business renting space in a private building. We don’t have anything in our code that prevents it…”

Barker of Stop DuPont emailed Nazarian the next morning to request a meeting, saying it was “quite offensive to the community of Beverly Hills” that DuPont chose it for their clinic. (Sacramento, where Barker lives, is nearly 400 miles away from Beverly Hills.) Nazarian responded that she was open to learning more. Emails show that a meeting with Barker, the city attorney Larry Wiener, and local law enforcement was scheduled for May 19, 2023, but it’s not clear what was discussed.

Nazarian declined to answer questions from CalMatters in city hall chambers, but sent an email saying that she tries to “meet with any group or individual, when requested,” and added, “As someone who has always supported a person’s right to choose, I am proud that our City already provides high quality reproductive services.” That doesn’t exactly explain her mid-meeting email asking, “How did this get through?”

DuPont claims in its lawsuit that the city met with representatives from DuPont’s landlord, Douglas Emmett, and asked whether there was any way to prevent the clinic from opening. The city officials were “visibly upset” when they said no, the landlord’s representatives later told DuPont.

Then-Mayor Julian Gold also discussed the clinic in emails. In the weeks after the April council meeting, city officials met with the Beverly Hills Police Department as well as Douglas Emmett representatives and drafted a letter to send to other tenants informing them that there might be protests, violence, or vandalism in and around the building because of a “new reproductive health care provider” set to open in fall 2023. The letter was signed by Mark Stainbrook, chief of Beverly Hills Police Department. After reviewing Stainbrook’s letter, Gold wrote in a May 25 email, “I thought he was going to suggest a locking door for the garage, security to get in the elevators, security offers with/without guns, bomb sniffing dogs etc.” Gold added, “I don’t mind turning up the heat a little.”

Email from Beverly Hills Mayor Julian Gold About DuPont Clinic

May 25, 2023, email from then-Mayor Julian Gold responding to letter written by the chief of police.

While the letter was never distributed, lawyers for Douglas Emmett cited it when rescinding DuPont’s lease, calling it “very concerning.” The June 12, 2023, email canceling the lease had six Beverly Hills city officials copied on it, including the Mayor. DuPont cited the joint email in its lawsuit as evidence of the city colluding with the landlord. The rescission notice claimed that DuPont hadn’t informed Douglas Emmett about its services and the extent of the protests the abortion provider might face. (DuPont denies this.) Jessica Corpuz, an attorney representing DuPont Clinic, told CalMatters, “It’s really sad, really scary, to see that all it takes [to block a clinic] is a couple of anti-abortion protesters going to a city council meeting.”

A spokesperson for the City of Beverly Hills told CalMatters they didn’t make the decision to rescind the lease and added, “The City is already home to medical offices that offer reproductive health services and has been very clear on its position of strongly supporting a person’s right to choose.” Despite those comments, Beverly Hills filed an anti-SLAPP motion against DuPont; that stands for “strategic lawsuit against public participation.” It’s an attempt to dismiss the case on free speech grounds, but DuPont’s lawyers told the Beverly Press the city is trying to avoid the discovery process, as more potentially incriminating information could be released. The city didn’t provide additional comment, citing ongoing litigation.

CalMatters said Attorney General Rob Bonta (D) is reportedly investigating the Beverly Hills case, but his office declined to comment.

But DuPont isn’t the only abortion provider having a hard time opening a clinic in California. Planned Parenthood affiliates have been unable to open two clinics in the last two years: in Visalia in the Central Valley, and Fontana in San Bernardino County. Both are more conservative areas, but Planned Parenthood of Orange and San Bernardino Counties is suing Fontana and claiming that the city is violating Proposition 1, which established a constitutional right to access reproductive health services, including abortion. Proposition 1 passed in November 2022.

Some California politicians may talk about the state as a safe haven, but as these clinics’ struggles show, local governments can get in the way of expanding access. Dr. Jennefer Russo, who was set to lead the new DuPont clinic, told the Beverly Press that patients already travel from California to Washington, D.C. for abortions. “California cannot claim to be a safe haven for the growing number of people who live in states with abortion bans—let alone meet the reproductive health care needs of Californians—unless clinics like DuPont Clinic are open and can provide the care people need,” Russo said.

And if it’s this hard to open clinics in a blue state, just imagine the hurdles that face abortion providers in more conservative states. Providers in Florida and Arizona face a unique situation where they have active or imminent bans that could shutter clinics, but voters could restore abortion access via ballot measures this fall. If clinics close, it likely means a net loss of clinics for generations. Nikki Madsen, the co-executive director of the Abortion Care Network, a national association of independent clinics, recently told the New York Times, “When a clinic closes, it’s incredibly difficult to reopen.” There are 36 indie clinics in Florida, she said.

In the coming months, advocates will be fighting and fundraising to keep clinics open so people have a place to go if ballot measures pass—without having to fight hostile city councils.

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