The Supreme Court has struck down a California law forcing pregnancy centers to promote abortions. The high court decision is a massive victory for pro-life advocates and pregnancy centers that want to provide pro-life options for pregnant women considering abortion without being forced to promote abortions.
The Supreme Court heard oral arguments earlier this year in National Institute of Family and Life Advocates v. Becerra, a lawsuit brought by pregnancy centers that don’t want to be compelled to advertise abortions.They say the California Reproductive FACT Act violates the free speech clause in the First Amendment.
Today, the nation’s highest court struck down the law, saying it “likely violates the First Amendment.” Justice Clarence Thomas wrote the opinion for the 5-4 majority in which Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Kennedy, Alito and Gorsuch joined. The four abortion advocates, Justices Breyer, Ginsburg, Sotomayor and Kagan ruled that pregnancy centers can be forced to promote abortions.
“The licensed notice is a content-based regulation. By compelling petitioners to speak a particular message, it “alters the content of [their] speech,'” the Supreme Court added.
Thomas wrote that “the people lose when the government is the one deciding which ideas should prevail…. This Court’s precedents are deeply skeptical of laws that ‘distinguis[h] among different speakers, allowing speech by some but not others.’”
Tuesday’s ruling from the Supreme Court could impact similar pro-abortion anti-free-speech laws enacted in other states, including Hawaii and Illinois.
Alliance Defending Freedom President, CEO, and General Counsel MichaelFarris told LifeNews he was delighted by the decision.
“No one should be forced by the government to express a message that violates their convictions, especially on deeply divisive subjects such as abortion,” said Farris. “In this case, the government used its power to force pro-life pregnancy centers to provide free advertising for abortion. The Supreme Court said that the government can’t do that, and that it must respect pro-life beliefs.”
“Tolerance and respect for good-faith differences of opinion are essential in a diverse society like ours,” Farris added. “They enable us to coexist peacefully with one another. If we want to have freedom for ourselves, we have to extend it to others.”
NIFPA president Thomas Glessner also was happy about today’s ruling.
“The right of free speech protected in the First Amendment not only includes the right to speak, but also the right to not be compelled by government to speak a message with which one disagrees and which violates one’s conscience,” said Glessner in comments to LifeNews. “The court correctly found that the California law clearly offends this principle. We are very pleased with the court’s decision and for what it means for the many pro-life centers that serve and empower women in California and throughout the country.”
Farris argued in court on behalf of the pregnancy centers.
“Today, before the United States Supreme Court justices, I argued on behalf of the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates that the California law forcing pro-life pregnancy centers to advertise for abortions is unlawful government-compelled expression,” hetold LifeNews after the oral arguments. “A government that tells you what you can’t say is dangerous, but a government that tells you what you must say—under threat of severe punishment—is alarming.”
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“The state of California, at the behest of the abortion industry, is using its power to force pro-life pregnancy centers to be complicit in abortion by telling women how to get one free or at a reduced cost. Even worse, AB775 specifically targets these small non-profit organizations that exist to provide women with life-affirming information they may not otherwise receive,” Farris added. “Other federal courts have already recognized that this type of government compelled speech violates the foundation of the freedom we have in the America, making the 9th Circuit’s denial of free speech the exception rather than the rule. In fact, courts have invalidated or mostly invalidated similar laws in Texas, Maryland, and New York City.”
Farris continued: “When the government decides what people should and should not say, other freedoms are sure to disappear soon after. The government exists to serve its people, and not the other way around. Even if you are not pro-life, do you want the government setting up its own advertising mandates for nonprofit organizations and then punishing any who disagree? The First Amendment does not allow the government to force you to speak its message. That’s especially true when you are pursuing a religious mission of simply providing resources and support to women free of charge.”
“California has the heavy burden of justifying its law under the Constitution or else the law must be struck down to give freedom back to the people. After arguments this morning, I am optimistic the justices will find that the state has not carried this burden and will continue their long tradition of giving speech the highest level of protection it deserves,” he concluded.
Thomas Glessner, president of National Institutes of Family and Life Advocates, told the McClatchy News Service the law forces about 200 pregnancy centers in California to be “abortion referral agencies.”
Abortion activists with NARAL and the Center for Reproductive Rights argue that the law is necessary because pregnancy centers “manipulate and deceive” pregnant women. But Jay Hobbs of Heartbeat International pointed out these pro-abortion groups have not produced one single testimony from a woman who has been harmed by a pregnancy center (other than a few abortion activists who were trying to trap pregnancy centers).
The law charges a cumulative fine of $1,000 for every repeated instance that the notice is not communicated to a client. This law sabotages freedom of speech by forcing organizations to encourage actions that are in direct opposition to their religious beliefs and counter the mission and purpose of their organizations.
Similar government-sponsored speech for pregnancy centers has been struck down as unconstitutional in Austin, Texas, Baltimore and Montgomery County, Maryland, and New York City.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit upheld a federal district judge’s decision to allow the law to remain in effect in October. The Supreme Court will decide whether to reverse the ruling, halt the law, and affirm that forcing the centers to provide the free advertising contrary to their core mission is a violation of their constitutionally protected freedoms.