California has filed a brief with the U.S. Supreme Court complaining that it cannot adequately promote abortion services without the help of a tiny number of pro-life pregnancy centers that mostly offer pregnancy tests, diapers and counseling.
The argument comes in a lawsuit against a state law, similar to others that have been struck down elsewhere, that requires the pro-life centers to provide contact information for state-funded abortion services to every woman who walks through their doors.
The state of California argues its abortion promotion is “a brief, non-ideological notice that readers will quickly identify as simply one of many government-mandated notices in the healthcare context.”
The pregnancy centers, however, insist that forcing them to promote abortionists violates their their deeply held religious beliefs.
Here’s a look at the reasons the fight is going on:
The state argues that it is requiring pro-life centers to publish telephone numbers for abortion-linked facilities so that women are given the “full spectrum of relevant healthcare.”
And it concedes “abortion” specifically is promoted.
Many consumers have been “misled by the actions of limited service pregnancy centers,” the state claims. For example, there may be volunteers at the pro-life centers who wear lab coats but are not licensed doctors.
Despite “statewide marketing campaigns, community mobilization, provider training, targeted efforts to reach vulnerable populations” many eligible Californians don’t know about their publicly funded health-care options, the state argues.
Michael Farris, whose Alliance Defending Freedom is representing the National Institute of Family and Life Associates, contended Americans “shouldn’t be forced by the government to promote messages that conflict with their beliefs.”
“Yet, the attorney general of California claims that pro-life pregnancy centers must provide free advertising for abortion because women may not know how to find an abortion facilit,” he said. “We strongly disagree: information about abortion is widely available. Under the Constitution, California is required to respect the free speech rights of all of its citizens – not just those in the abortion industry.”
California’s attorney general, Xavier Becerra, actively promotes abortion, even to the point of filing criminal charges against two pro-life activists who filmed, in public locations, abortion industry participants bragging about selling the body parts of unborn children.
The cases, centering on the undercover videos released by the Center for Medical Progress in 2015, are still in the courts.
The California law, ADF said, “forces non-profit pregnancy centers to provide free advertising for the abortion industry.”
“California’s brief continues to make clear that the state is targeting pro-life pregnancy centers because it disagrees with what they say and do to love and support women and their babies,” ADF said.
The law, California AB 775, requires licensed medical centers that offer free, pro-life help to pregnant women to post a disclosure saying that California provides free or low-cost abortion and contraception services.
“The disclosure must also include a phone number for a county office that refers women to Planned Parenthood and others in the abortion industry,” ADF said. “The law also forces unlicensed pregnancy centers to add large disclosures in multiple languages about their non-medical status in all advertisements, which obscure and crowd out their pro-life speech.”
Similar laws have been totally or mostly overturned already in cases in Austin, Texas; Montgomery County, Maryland; Baltimore; and New York City.
“No one should be forced to provide free advertising for the abortion industry – least of all pro-life pregnancy centers,” said ADF Senior Counsel and Senior Vice President of the U.S. Legal Division Kristen Waggoner. “Freedom of speech also means the freedom to not express views that would violate one’s conscience. Yet, under this law, the California government is using its power to force pro-life centers to provide free advertising for the abortion industry against their conscience. Because of the First Amendment’s protections, courts have repeatedly rejected these types of laws as unconstitutional.”
Already 22 states and 144 members of Congress have urged the court to reverse the California decision, which was endorsed by the much-overturned 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
NIFLA has argued: “This court has long held that compelled speech is highly disfavored because it imperils freedom by giving government control of the voices of private actors—and that laws targeting particular speakers because of their views are especially dangerous. The government ‘may not substitute its judgment as to how best to speak for that of speakers and listeners; free and robust debate cannot thrive if directed by the government.’ … This court should continue its steadfast defense of this fundamental freedom against governmental attempts to compel speech, and reverse the judgment of the Ninth Circuit.”
It was recently reported in Joseph Farah’s G2 Bulletin that the federal government, in an analysis, said the ruling could have a significant impact on speech rights and related laws and regulations beyond the abortion issue.
“The parties in National Institute of Family and Life Advocates v. Becerra dispute whether California’s Reproductive FACT Act is a viewpoint – or content-based restriction on speech subject to strict scrutiny (and thus presumptively invalid) or a professional or commercial regulation subject to less exacting scrutiny,” the government analysis says.
“The path the court chooses could have implications for lawmakers both in the context of family planning or pregnancy-related services and, more broadly, in the regulation of professional and commercial activities.”
The most recent development in the issue came when the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals struck down a Baltimore ordinance imposing that requirement.
The court found that the ordinance violated the free speech clause of the First Amendment.
The opinion said: “The compelled speech at issue here raises particularly troubling First Amendment concerns. At bottom, the disclaimer portrays abortion as one among a menu of morally equivalent choices. While that may be the city’s view, it is not the center’s.”
The ruling also found the ordinance was an impermissible attempt by Baltimore officials “to use compelled speech as a weapon to run its ideological foes into the ground.”
Liberty Counsel represents three additional pro-life crisis pregnancy centers that have been fighting the same battle in California.
The campaign was launched by abortion industry interests who convinced their state lawmakers to direct the referrals, which would keep a steady flow of income to the abortionists.