Today, in a 5-4 win, the Supreme Court of the United States issued its decision in NIFLA v. Becerra, striking down a 2015 California state law that forced pro-life medical clinics to promote abortion by posting abortion advertisements on their websites and waiting room walls.
The decision marks a resounding victory for pregnancy help centers across the nation, who can now speak their message of hope without government interference. It also marks the end of a three-year legal battle fought by the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA)—the named plaintiff in the case which represents a network of 1,400 pro-life pregnancy centers and ultrasound equipped medical clinics—and for Alliance Defending Freedom, which represented NIFLA throughout the litigation.
Jor-El Godsey, president of Heartbeat International, a fellow pregnancy help network of over 2,500 affiliates, cheered the decision as a victory for pregnancy centers nationwide.
“Today’s decision is a tremendous win not only for free speech but for human life,” said Godsey. “Thanks to today’s ruling, California’s 200-plus pregnancy centers can continue to serve women and children, unburdened by the unconscionable demands of the abortion lobby. This is an unquestionably major triumph for U.S. pregnancy centers working to save families from the sting of abortion.”
The Unconstitutional Burdens of the “Reproductive FACT Act”
The California law, known among abortion advocates as the “Reproductive FACT Act,” requires pregnancy centers to tell their clients that “California has public programs that provide immediate or low-cost access to…abortion”; and to instruct their clients, to “contact the county social services office” at a particular telephone number “[t]o determine whether you qualify.”
“No one should be forced to speak a message with which they fundamentally disagree. The obvious intent of this unconstitutional law was to drown out pro-life voices by forcing pregnancy centers to promote abortion,” said Danielle White, legal counsel for Heartbeat International. “This is a message that contradicts their very reason for existence, not to mention their deeply-held beliefs about the sanctity of human life.”
The law also requires unlicensed centers to post signage saying that the center is not licensed as a medical facility and does not have a licensed medical provider.
It also mandates the disclosure to be translated into 13 different languages.
Finally, the statue even requires the disclosure to appear in any advertisement for a given center, with the disclosure’s text size even larger than the text of the advertisement itself.
During oral arguments this March, Supreme Court Justices from across the ideological spectrum indicated major concerns with the law. Liberal Justices Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Sonia Sotomayor—all of whom dissented from today’s decision—each challenged California’s burdensome and discriminatory requirements.
“I mean, it is one thing just to say: ‘We are not a licensed medical provider,’” said Justice Ginsburg. “But if you have to say those two sentences in 13 different languages, it can be very burdensome.”
Just how burdensome the edict would become was perfectly depicted in this image from Heartbeat International’s amicus brief.
During oral argument, Justice Neil Gorsuch referenced this image, including Heartbeat’s contention that if pregnancy help centers decided to run this advertisement against themselves, it would cost them roughly $9,000 per month.
The National Impact
Today’s ruling is the latest—and most significant—court victory for pro-life pregnancy centers which have been the target of similarly onerous free speech restrictions in New York, Connecticut, Maryland, Texas, Hawaii, and Illinois.
Previously, in 2014, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals struck down a similar New York City ordinance, calling the measure, “a bureaucrat’s dream” with “a deliberately ambiguous set of standards guiding its application.”
Then, in December 2017, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the City of Baltimore’s law, capping off a seven-year legal fight with a pro-life win. Giving lie to the same accusations that undergird the California law, namely that pregnancy centers deceive women, the opinion noted that “after seven years of litigation and a 1,295-page record before us, the City does not identify a single example of a woman who entered the Greater Baltimore Center’s waiting room under the misimpression that she could obtain an abortion there.”
As previously reported at Pregnancy Help News, laws forcing pro-lifers to post signage deterring women from their services are currently on the books in Oakland, San Francisco and Hartford, Connecticut. The Supreme Court’s decision is likely to affect all of those laws, as well as those in Hawaii and Illinois—which gutted its Healthcare Right of Conscience Act to force pro-life medical professionals to refer for abortions and advise patients on abortion’s “benefits” in 2016.
“The Court’s message today to the abortion lobby is loud and clear: These bully bills do not belong on our books,” said Godsey. “If abortion advocates and pro-choice politicians want to continue their attack on life-affirming pregnancy centers, they will only be met with more definitive court losses and mounting legal fees. The irony is that all of that time and money could have been spent on the very women they claim to help. We applaud the Court for preserving the right of pregnancy centers to speak their message of hope and love to every woman experiencing an unexpected pregnancy.”
LifeNews Note: Katie Franklin is managing editor for Pregnancy Help News and content writer at Heartbeat International. She previously served as director of communications for Ohio Right to Life and is a graduate of Denison University where she earned a B.A. in history in 2013. Katie lives in Columbus, Ohio with her husband Miles and daughter Elizabeth.