A crucial component of liberty is the freedom of individuals to band together to serve their communities, help those in need and promote goodness, truth and beauty. On March 20, the United States Supreme Court will consider whether that liberty is violated when the heavy hand of government forces these voluntary associations to promote messages they abhor.
The case, National Institute of Family and Life Advocates v. Becerra, centers around a 2015 California law. The “Reproductive Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care, and Transparency Act” (lovingly referred to by abortion activists as the “Reproductive FACT Act”), aims to ensure that no woman can receive pregnancy resources and counseling without being reminded that the state will gladly pay for her unborn baby to simply be killed.
Apparently, the state of California is troubled by the existence of centers where compassionate counselors and health-care providers seek to provide pregnant women with life-affirming options and the resources to support them. After all, what if expectant mothers get caught up in all the talk about “choosing life” or decide to bless a loving family with a baby to adopt – and lose sight of the fact that the state is waiting in the wings to provide a free abortion?
To prevent such a tragedy, the California Legislature did what any tyrannical government would do: It passed a law requiring privately operated pregnancy centers providing pregnancy tests and ultrasounds to inform their patients that free or low-cost abortions are available. The law further requires them to provide the phone number of the state agency that can refer them to these abortion providers.
This is precisely what is known in First Amendment law as “compelled speech.” It is the blunt force of law applied to coerce private citizens or groups to say exactly what the government wants them to say. It is antithetical to free speech and a brazen affront to liberty.
Several of the affected pregnancy centers took this argument to court, but a federal district court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit rejected their claims. The 9th Circuit ruled that because this law regulates “professional speech,” it can be subjected to a lower level of legal scrutiny. The court went on to find that the law withstands that scrutiny because it is based on the state’s concern that some women who visit pregnancy centers may not be aware of the state-funded-abortion option.
The 9th Circuit was wrong. A lower-scrutiny “professional speech” standard may be appropriate for regulations requiring health-care professionals to advise patients of specific risks that accompany specific medical procedures they are about to perform – what is known as “informed consent.” But requiring caregivers to inform a woman who has not come to undergo a risk-laden medical procedure that she could choose a risk-laden procedure to end the life of another human being is altogether different, and outrageous.
Will California next require marriage counselors to tell couples where they can get a low-cost divorce? Will it make addiction recovery groups notify attendees that recreational marijuana is legal? Why not require oncologists to inform every terminally ill patient, upon delivering the diagnosis, that physician-assisted suicide is available?
If the state of California wants every pregnant woman to know that free or low-cost abortions are available, it can tell them itself. In a nation founded on the principle of individual liberty, however, it cannot commandeer private citizens and organizations to advertise for the abortion industry – or for anything else.
The idea that the state of California needs the help of these little nonprofit pregnancy centers to get its message out is laughable. After all, “Covered California,” the state’s Obamacare exchange, wields a jaw-dropping $45 million advertising budget, including $100,000 just for painting murals.
But the state has chosen to bully private citizens – and the organizations built upon their passion for life – in order to get the word out about abortion. The government wants to co-opt their facilities, their reputations, their resources and their voices to advertise its hopeless offer of death.
Listen up, California: Here in America, the First Amendment protects the private voices of citizens from being hijacked to peddle your message or to dilute their own. Go to the marketplace of ideas to make your shameful claims that death can be “cheap,” “free,” or easy. But take your heavy hand off the scales and compete fairly with those Good Samaritans who offer women the compassion, hope and help that make life such a beautiful choice.