On Monday, the Supreme Court (SCOTUS) announced it will hear an anti-abortion group’s free-speech objection to a California law that mandates “crisis pregnancy centers” to advise patients that the state of California provides subsidies for contraception and abortion.
The group objecting believes the state’s disclosure law is in violation of the 1st Amendment. They find that the disclosures force the faith-based pregnancy centers to deliver a message that clashes with their goal of encouraging childbirth, instead of abortion.
The law is entitled “The Reproductive FACT Act” by its supporters. It went into effect in 2016. The law itself requires pregnancy centers to post notices that, “California has public programs that provide immediate free or low-cost access to comprehensive family planning services (including all FDA-approved methods of contraception), prenatal care, and abortion for eligible women. To determine whether you qualify, contact the county social services office at [insert the telephone number].”
The Pregnancy Care Center, National Institute of Family and Life Advocates, and Fallbrook Pregnancy Resource Center sued over the mandate objecting that the law violates the First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and free exercise of religion.
The Supreme Court has scheduled the appeal on December 5th.
Another Conservative Challenge to the Courts, SCOTUS
According to the Los Angeles Times, this case will be the second this term in which a conservative, religious-rights plaintiff is challenging a liberal state law on free-speech grounds. Both appeals originated from the same lawyers. Previously, the Arizona-based Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) sued on behalf of a Colorado baker who refused to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple. The baker was subsequently charged with violating the Colorado’s civil rights law.
The appeal for the abortion case was filed in March. The group’s petition to the Supreme Court states that “California enacted the Reproductive FACT Act with the stated purpose of targeting pro-life ‘crisis pregnancy centers’ based on their viewpoint that ‘discourage[s]’ abortion…. The Ninth Circuit candidly admits that it upheld the Act amidst a ‘circuit split’ over how to scrutinize regulations of speech by medical professionals on controversial health issues,” reported SCOTUS Blog.
With the lawsuit centered around the First Amendment, the critical issue is whether “California can put its thumb on one side of the scale and require a faith-based center to promote a pro-abortion message,” said Michael Farris, ADF’s president. Farris’ belief is that the way the law is enforced, it is in violation of the First Amendment.
The Alliance Defending Freedom
Kevin Theriot, senior counsel for the Alliance Defending Freedom, is in agreement with Farris. “It’s unthinkable for the government to force anyone to provide free advertising for the abortion industry. This is especially true of pregnancy care centers, which exist to care for women who want to have their babies,” he said. “The state shouldn’t have the power to punish anyone for being pro-life,” he added. “Instead, it should protect freedom of speech and freedom from coerced speech.”
California lawmakers passed the disclosure law two years ago citing the need for clarification. After concluding as many as 200 pregnancy centers in the state, lawmakers found that these centers sometimes used “intentionally deceptive advertising and counseling practices that often confuse, misinform and even intimidate women” about their options for medical care reported the LA Times.
First Amendment Fight
The case represents a constitutional battle between California’s authority to regulate the medical profession versus the First Amendment’s protection under the freedom of speech. In the past, states have had the power to control physicians and medical providers to shield the public from fraud and care that was beneath mandated standards. Recently, however, doctors have sued and won. Doctors alleged state overreach by state lawmakers and California was wrongly interfering with the doctor-patient relationship, the LA Times reported.
Consequently, while the pregnancy centers believe that both their free speech and religious freedom rights are violated by the law, the justices will only address the free speech claim.
What do you think? Tell us in the comments below!