Today, the Supreme Court of the United States handed a 5-4 victory to pro-life pregnancy centers in the case NIFLA v. Becerra, a case in which the state of California’s 2015 “Reproductive FACT Act” attempted to force non-profit pregnancy resource centers to promote abortion through government-mandated messaging. The court held that the FACT Act “likely violates the First Amendment” and sent the case back to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals for reconsideration. According to the Catholic News Agency, “The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the case against the law was unlikely to succeed on its merits. The Supreme Court reversed that ruling, saying that the Ninth Circuit was wrong to treat the speech of pregnancy centers as a lesser category of free speech simply because it is ‘professional speech.'”
The court stated in its majority opinion, delivered by Justice Clarence Thomas, that “California could… inform the women about its services ‘without burdening a speaker with unwanted speech,’… most obviously through a public-information campaign.”
The Reproductive FACT Act was actually based on the false and unproven charge that pregnancy resource centers are “misleading” in their advertising and their interactions with women who come to them for assistance. Yet, in the Court’s opinion, it is made clear that “California denied that the justification for the FACT Act was that women ‘go into [crisis pregnancy centers] and they don’t realize what they are.'”
Live Action president and founder Lila Rose stated in response to the pro-life victory:
Planned Parenthood and pro-abortion politicians in California manufactured this law specifically to target pro-life pregnancy centers. This unjust law was one of the worst offenses against First Amendment rights we’ve seen and shows the illegal lengths the abortion industry and its political allies are willing to go to suppress the pro-life viewpoint and promote the killing of children in the womb. We applaud the Supreme Court for upholding the free speech rights of these centers.
Pro-life pregnancy centers are doing some of the most important work in our communities today. They are providing advocacy, education, baby supplies, parenting classes, and maternity care to women in need. In addition to helping women during pregnancy, they often provide support long after the baby is born. If California’s law was allowed to stand, these critical resources would have disappeared, as these centers would have closed their doors rather than go against everything they believe by advertising the slaughter of preborn children.
Abortion facilities like Planned Parenthood already use millions of dollars from taxpayers to promote their abortion business. No one should be forced to provide free advertising for the abortion industry – least of all pro-life pregnancy centers who are working to promote life, not destroy it.
In March of 2018, Live Action News’ Kristi Burton Brown reported that the SCOTUS justices had heard the oral arguments in the case and seemed drastically less than impressed with the arguments of those seeking to force pregnancy centers to promote abortion:
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.
While Kennedy voted with the majority, Kagan ultimately ended up on the dissenting side of the Court’s opinion.
Brown added that the law “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.'” Those words would also have to be in the same font and size as the rest of the billboard’s messaging. “Additionally,” Brown said, “in some California counties, the 29 words would have to appear in 13 different languages.” Brown noted that Justice Elena Kagan, an Obama appointee, even felt that California “had ‘gerrymandered’ the law to quite literally put a target on the heads of pregnancy centers and clinics.” The Court agreed that this requirement was an unnecessary burden, writing that this requirement “drowns out the facility’s own message. More likely, the ‘detail required’ by the unlicensed notice ‘effectively rules out’ the possibility of having such a billboard in the first place.”
The Court noted:
The only justification [for the FACT Act] put forward by the state legislature was ensuring that pregnant women know when they are receiving medical care from licensed professionals, but California denied that the justification for the law was that women did not know what kind of facility they are entering when they go to a crisis pregnancy center. Even if the State had presented a non-hypothetical justification, the FACT Act unduly burdens protected speech. It imposes a government-scripted, speaker-based disclosure requirement that is wholly disconnected from the State’s informational interest. It requires covered facilities to post California’s precise notice, no matter what the facilities say on site or in their advertisements.
… [T]he licensed notice is not limited to “purely factual and uncontroversial information about the terms under which . . . services will be available.” …The notice in no way relates to the services that licensed clinics provide. Instead, it requires these clinics to disclose information about state-sponsored services— including abortion, anything but an “uncontroversial” topic.
Thankfully, the majority of the justices saw through California’s ruse and upheld the free speech of nonprofit pregnancy resource centers, which help women and their children every day, thanks to the donations of individuals in their local communities. As the Court noted, “the people lose when the government is the one deciding which ideas should prevail.”