A three-judge panel of 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the state of California can impose speech on pro-life pregnancy centers, requiring them to inform visitors about the state’s abortion offerings.
However, the legal challenge to the law, which took effect at the beginning of the year, will continue.
The issue at hand as the date of the law’s enactment approached was whether an injunction would protect the centers’ constitutional speech rights while the case is fought.
The San Francisco Chronicle reported 9th Circuit Judges Edward Leavy, Milan Smith and Sandra Ikuta said the state-mandated notices can be imposed because the clinics probably would not succeed in their fight against the requirement.
That’s even though similar plans have been struck down by federal courts elsewhere.
The law now requires religious groups to tell women: “California has public programs that provide immediate free or low-cost access to comprehensive family planning services (including allocating 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 alternative is fines that begin in the hundreds of dollars.
The pro-life centers had fought to block implementation because they argue they never would voluntarily present that message to the public, making it forced speech, which previous court cases have found to be unconstitutional.
Lawyer Francis Manion of the American Center for Law and Justice, one of the organizations that has sued over the issue, told the Chronicle the case will continue.
Crisis pregnancy centers, of which there are thousands across the nation, offer counseling and services to pregnant women, such as pregnancy tests and ultrasound examinations.
Their reason for existence is to oppose abortion.
California’s new requirement, however, demands they provide information about abortion services to the public.
The 9th Circuit decision came in a case brought on behalf of the Livingwell Medical Clinic, Pregnancy Care Center of the North Coast and Confidence Pregnancy Center.
They are fighting the state’s new Reproductive Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care and Transparency Act.
Two lower court judges previously sided with the state’s plan for forced speech, including District Judge Jeffery Write, who rejected the centers’ frustrations that the plaintiffs would be “forced by the act to disseminate a government-mandated message wholly contrary to their religious beliefs.”
Another case was filed by the Pacific Justice Institute. In that case, the request for an injunction was rejected by District Judge Kimberly Mueller.
“Judge Mueller determined that the interests of the clinics in refusing to promote abortion were outweighed by the interests of the state to ensure women receive information about all their options,” the Pacific Justice Institute said in a statement.
Its president, Brad Dacus, warned the ruling should be cause for alarm.
“The notion that the government can compel religious non-profits to promote practices antithetical to their values is chilling,” he said.
WND reported similar legislation was thrown out by the courts when it was attempted in New York. It also has failed in several other federal court jurisdictions.
The law, AB 775, still faces trial on its constitutionality, no matter the preliminary ruling from the judges.
“Forcing a religious pro-life charity to proclaim a pro-abortion declaration is on its face an egregious violation of both the free speech and free exercises clauses of the First Amendment,” said Dacus when the cases were announced.
“We will not rest until this government mandate is completely halted,” he said.
One complaint explains: “The content of the government message memorialized in AB 775 directly contradicts the foundational religious principles upon which A Woman’s Friend operates, as well as the message it conveys to its clients regarding abortion. As a result, A Woman’s Friend is subject to imminent adverse enforcement action against it by defendant.”
The law also requires the notification to be of a certain type and size.
In New York, the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals said the state could require crisis pregnancy centers to disclose whether they have a licensed medical provider on staff but not whether the center provides abortions or referrals, because that violates the First Amendment.
The ruling was left untouched by the Supreme Court.
Attorney Herbert W. Titus of William J. Olson, P.C., who has taught constitutional law, common law and other subjects for decades at several universities, told WND it’s “not the government’s business to force anybody to carry the message of anyone else.”
“That is certainly what’s being done here,” he said.
Thomas Jefferson, he noted, described that very action as “sinful and tyrannical.”
“It’s fairly typical of California, [which is] always on the cutting edge of making us more and more like a fascist country, in which the state determines what we can say and what we can’t say,” Titus told WND.
Titus also has served as a trial attorney and special assistant U.S. attorney with the Department of Justice. He holds degrees from Harvard and the University of Oregon, and for several years had his own daily radio program. He has testified on constitutional issues before Congress and state legislatures.