Today, the United States Supreme Court agreed to hear the the appeal of a California law that mandates pro-abortion speech in privately-owned and religious pregnancy centers.
Dubbed the “Bully Bill,” California’s Reproductive FACT Act requires pregnancy centers to tell women that the state offers them subsidized abortions. Pregnancy centers have argued that this is a violation of their free speech rights. In many cases, this government-mandated speech is also a violation of the centers’ religious beliefs, as some of the centers are religiously affiliated.
Additionally, the law requires pregnancy centers to inform women whether there are medical personnel on staff or disclose that they are “unlicenced,” without regard for the fact that centers do not currently tell women they are a licensed medical facility. The California law serves to take away the right of pro-life centers to choose how to conduct their business, how to exercise their right to free speech, and how to express their religious views without interference from the state. Now the nation’s highest court has indicated it believes there is enough merit in the centers’ appeal to decide the case itself.
The California case promises to be a high-profile conflict that raises important free speech issues about when a state’s intent to regulate the medical profession violates constitutional protections.
“Crisis pregnancy centers” provide services for pregnant women and try to persuade them not to end their pregnancies. But some state legislatures, including California’s, have charged that they use deceptive advertising and confuse and even intimidate women who believe they are going to receive more neutral abortion counseling.
A panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit upheld the law, saying the state could regulate professional speech and had a valid interest in safeguarding public health. The required sign did not encourage abortion, the judges said, but merely informed patients of available state services.
In 2015, Live Action News reported on the process:
When the law was being debated, Jonathan Keller, executive director of the California Family Council and California Family Alliance (CFA), said:
Remarkably, AB 775 would turn every Pregnancy Resource Center (PRC) into a state-mandated abortion referral service. The bill would force over 160 PRCs in California to use their lobbies, websites, and literature to promote state-funded ‘free’ abortions, a direct violation of their moral standards. Violators would face heavy fines of at least $500 for each infraction.
Now the Supreme Court will be able to determine if California has, indeed, overstepped its power in requiring mandated speech in a private workplace. Pregnancy centers are generally not funded by the government. The Court may also determine whether the government is interfering with pregnancy center staff’s freedom of religion. As Live Action reported in 2015, the law has presented serious conflicts for those with deeply-held religious beliefs:
To force a Catholic-run counseling service, for example, to tell clients how to get an abortion for low or no cost is a conscience violation, and turns civil rights into a farce rather than reality.
The case is expected to be heard early next year, but the decision may not be announced until late June. When the U.S. Supreme Court reviews decisions made by the Ninth Circuit, they are overwhelmingly reversed — at a rate of 80 percent.