Pro-life pregnancy centers secured an important First Amendment protection against compelled speech this week, and simultaneously, delivered another devastating loss to beleaguered California State Attorney General Xavier Becerra.
“Today is a victory for more than just the dedicated volunteers who staff pregnancy care centers,” said Catherine Glenn Foster, the president of Americans United for Life, in a statement. “It is also a victory for the thousands of women who go to the centers seeking life-affirming care and support.”
On Tuesday, the United States Supreme Court ruled that a 2015 California law, misleadingly known as the Reproductive FACT Act, violates the Constitution. The law required pro-life crisis pregnancy centers to publicize abortion services.
“The licensed notice is a content-based regulation of speech,” the majority opinion states. “By compelling individuals to speak a particular message, such notices ‘alter the content of [their] speech.’”
US Justice Foundation: Influential Amicus Brief
The 5-4 decision, authored by Justice Clarence Thomas, echoed arguments presented by the United States Justice Foundation in its influential amicus brief.
“If the FACT Act involved any topic other than abortion, it likely already would have been found in violation of the First Amendment principles that the government may neither compel nor suppress speech that it believes is misleading,” the US Justice Foundation wrote in its amicus brief.
The case, National Institute of Family and Life Advocates v. Xavier Becerra, dominated the headlines as an abortion rights case. Yet, legal experts universally agreed that the central question was whether California’s law violated the First Amendment.
“No one would require Alcoholics Anonymous to promote liquor stores,” writes Thomas A. Glessner, president of the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates, the petitioners in the case. “Pro-life clinics deserve the same respect.”
California lawmakers attempted to force Christian crisis pregnancy centers to contradict their religious beliefs by forcing the clinics to share information about abortion services with their patients.
“It is a sign of the times that the FACT Act is described not as promotion of abortion, but as a “reproductive health” measure,” the United States Justice Foundation argued in its amicus brief. “The California legislature unrighteously assumes the opposite — the highest good is abortion, not birth.”
Case Highlighted California Hypocrisy
In addition to violating free speech rights, the Supreme Court pointed out that California’s law was “too narrowly limited in scope and only attempted to impose this speech on crisis pregnancy centers opposed to abortion rather than any health center that offers services like birth control or family planning.”
Such a blatantly discriminatory law would appear, on its face, to violate the Constitution. Nevertheless, California State Attorney General Becerra wasted taxpayer dollars to defend the poorly-drafted measure.
“Though this decision is worth celebrating, it’s lamentable that the Supreme Court was ever asked to consider such an obvious and malicious violation of the First Amendment,” National Review points out. “The FACT Act is perhaps the best example of the rapidly growing extremism of the abortion-rights movement — and, of course, of the intensely progressive bent of California’s state government.”
Steven Greenhut, the western region director for the R Street Institute, believes the case demonstrates hypocrisy in California’s pro-choice movement.
“The law spotlighted the hypocrisy of the “pro-choice” movement, which seems only to favor one particular choice,” writes Greenhut, a well-respected California journalist. “Crisis pregnancy centers are generally religious-based organizations, funded by donations, that provide a humane alternative to abortion. No one is dragging pregnant women into these centers.”
Protection Against Pro-Life Discrimination
Dan Walters, a California opinion columnist, argues that even supporters of abortion should applaud the decision “for upholding the right not to be compelled by law to convey certain messages.”
“The legal and moral correctness of the decision is easily illustrated by flipping the circumstances,” he argues. “What if California law required clinics performing abortions to advise their clients about other alternatives?”
The Supreme Court’s decision in NIFLA v. Becerra reversed the liberal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals – ensuring that pro-life residents of California will not be subject to discrimination.
“We applaud the US Supreme Court for sending a clear statement today that pro-life Americans cannot be discriminated against and targeted by government,” stated Penny Nance, CEO and president of Concerned Women for America. “Malicious abortion politics definitely were the motivation behind it, but the case centered on the inappropriate mandate of the state compelling pro-life clinics to promote abortion in violation of their consciences.”
She added, “The case was about forced speech.”