On March 20, 2018, the long-awaited oral arguments in National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA) v. Becerra were heard at the U.S. Supreme Court. Michael Farris argued on behalf of the pregnancy centers, and the state of California sent Deputy State Solicitor General Joshua Klein to defend the nation’s most extreme anti-speech law targeting pregnancy centers.
When the arguments had finished, both mainstream media and legal analysts were in near complete agreement that the California law was in trouble. Even the notably liberal Justice Elena Kagan and the usual swing vote Justice Anthony Kennedy had appeared troubled — even deeply so — by the state’s attempt to force a very narrow group of private organizations to peddle government speech.
The anti-speech law, misleadingly called “the Reproductive FACT Act,” had been based from the start on a false premise. California had asserted that pregnancy centers and clinics were deceiving women, convincing them that the centers were “full-service reproductive health clinics,” though the centers did not commit or refer for abortions. However, the state’s ability to leave logic at the edge of the cliff prior to jumping off was illustrated by a question from Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg. Ginsberg asked Klein whether California had ever sued pregnancy resource centers for the “false and misleading advertising” it was asserting.” The answer: no.
The law is indeed so strenuous and bold-faced that it would, in some cases, require nonprofit pregnancy resource centers to include a 29-word, state-mandated statement on a billboard that would otherwise simply say, “Choose Life.” And not only would the 29 government words be required, but they would also be required in the same font as the nonprofit’s chosen, paid-for message. Additionally, in some California counties, the 29 words would have to appear in 13 different languages.
Such particularly onerous applications of the law led even Justice Kagan to suppose, during oral arguments, that California had “gerrymandered” the law to quite literally put a target on the heads of pregnancy centers and clinics. She called such action by a state government “a serious issue.” Her newest colleague, Justice Neil Gorsuch, added, “If you’re trying to educate a class” of people “about their rights, it’s pretty unusual to force a private speaker to do that for you under the First Amendment.”
Indeed, a state government is not allowed to target one specific group’s right to free speech and virtually eliminate it, due to the government’s broad and unexplainable preference for a “right” not even found in the Constitution. Not only is such an attempt unconstitutional, it is also greatly lacking in logic, as defending the law has already led the financially-strapped California to great wastefulness in taxpayer dollars. Moreover, the defense has earned free media for the state’s targeted group. Pregnancy resource centers have become part of the national discussion and regular dinner conversation, thanks to California’s attempts to force them into advertising for abortion.
California and its allies in mainstream media have set out to discredit pregnancy resource centers and clinics by pretending that all of them are the same and that all of them advertise for false services. In fact, these life-focused organizations carefully present themselves in accurate and factual ways to the women they serve and the public at large. Pregnancy resource centers present themselves as just that: staffed centers that provide and connect women with the resources they need during pregnancy. And pregnancy clinics present themselves as exactly what they are: clinics with medical staff that offer specific medical services. Despite California’s claims to the contrary, both centers and clinics do honest and necessary work, often for low-income women who have nowhere else to turn.
Thanks to the pointed questions from SCOTUS, California’s anti-speech law has been exposed in all its odd vainglory before the nation’s highest court. Pregnancy centers, which already make clear when they offer practical help, counseling, and referrals (but not medical treatment), are being required to advertise what they are not. And pregnancy clinics that have doctors on staff are being required to advertise the services they do not offer. Or more accurately, only one “service” they do not commit: abortion.
The state of California was never interested in making these OBGYNs write down an entire list of all the medical services they do not provide, but instead, only in forcing them to advertise that the state would happily lead a woman to the trough of taxpayer funded abortion.
A more transparent agenda could hardly exist.
In California, if a private, donor-funded organization dares to offer a woman practical or medical help but declines to commit inhuman abortion procedures, the state is happy to unduly strip any such organization or person of its constitutional right to free speech. Thankfully, all indicators point to the U.S. Supreme Court coming down on California with the hand of justice, releasing pregnancy resource centers to once again serve women in freedom.
Jor-El Godsey, President of Heartbeat International, commented:
We’re hopeful that the Supreme Court justices will strike down this edict and give free speech life. No state or government power has the right to force a citizen to advertise a product they know harms or destroys fellow citizens. Every woman should be free to receive the compassionate help she needs to choose life for her precious child. We look forward to seeing this injustice done away with once and for all.