A federal judge in California has ordered the state to pay the attorney’s fees and costs to Liberty Counsel for its lawsuit against the state’s demand that pro-life pregnancy centers promote abortion.
Liberty Counsel represented Mountain Right to Life, Birth Choice of the Desert and His Nesting Place, which faced massive fines and penalties for refusing to promote abortion to women who came to their offices for help.
The federal court’s decision is based on the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in National Institute of Family and Life Advocates v. Becerra, a case with identical issues. While the Supreme Court ruled in the NIFLA case, it returned the Mountain Right to Life case to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which sent it back to the district court.
Following the NIFLA precedent, the district court ruled that the state “shall be permanently enjoined from enforcing the Reproductive FACT Act,” ordering California to pay the fees and costs to Liberty Counsel.
Liberty Counsel said Thursday the state is permanently banned from enforcing the law requiring pro-life centers to promote abortion.
“The three pro-life crisis pregnancy centers are faith-based and offer women pregnancy resources, counseling, advice and alternatives to abortion,” Liberty Counsel explained. “The California Reproductive FACT Act directly opposed their mission and forced them to endorse the government language promoting the abortion message on their front door, in their waiting room, online and in every advertisement for the crisis pregnancy center. The message had to be printed in 48-point font and in up to 13 languages or the centers could be fined $500 for the first violation and $1,000 for each additional violation.”
Lupe Ramos Watson of Birth Choice of the Desert said the law threatened the center’s very existence.
She said new mothers come to Birth Choice because “they want to break that cycle of poverty and build a better life for their family.”
Most clients suffer extreme poverty and often homelessness, she explained.
“They feel their choices are very slim, and some question how they can be a parent,” said Watson.
She cited the case of Ann, a drug addict who lived on the streets.
“When Ann became pregnant, her mother gave up hope to save both her daughter and her unborn grandbaby,” Liberty Counsel said. “She thought abortion was the only option. However, while driving Ann to the abortion center, her mother heard Birth Choice’s advertisement on the radio promoting open adoptions. She immediately turned the car around and drove her daughter to the pregnancy center. They spoke with an open adoption liaison and made a birth plan for the unborn baby, including visitation as the child grew. Now this child has celebrated his 18th birthday and currently lives with his grandmother.”
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on NIFLA in June, concluding the law likely violates the First Amendment.
“Content-based laws ‘target speech based on its communicative content’ and ‘are presumptively unconstitutional and may be justified only if the government proves that they are narrowly tailored to serve compelling state interests,'” the opinion argued.
“The licensed notice is a content-based regulation. By compelling petitioners to speak a particular message, it ‘alters the content of [their] speech,'” the ruling found.
Lower courts had said they would allow the state to force the pro-life centers to carry the state’s message because it was “professional” speech, but the high court said that’s nonsense.
“This court has never recognized ‘professional speech’ as a separate category of speech subject to different rules. Speech is not unprotected merely because it is uttered by professionals.”
In recent years, similar laws were totally or mostly overturned in cases in Austin, Texas; Montgomery County, Maryland; Baltimore; and New York City.