WASHINGTON — The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear an appeal from several California pregnancy centers that are challenging a state law requiring them to provide information on government abortion programs even though doing so goes against their mission and purpose.
The court will consider the question as to “whether the Free Speech Clause or the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment prohibits California from compelling licensed pro-life centers to post information on how to obtain a state-funded abortion and from compelling unlicensed pro-life centers to disseminate a disclaimer to clients on site and in any print and digital advertising.”
“Forcing anyone to provide free advertising for the abortion industry is unthinkable—especially when it’s the government doing the forcing. This is even more true when it comes to pregnancy care centers, which exist specifically to care for women who want to have their babies,” Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) Senior Counsel Kevin Theriot said in a statement on Monday after the court announced that it had accepted the case.
The group had petitioned the nation’s highest court to hear the appeal in March, noting that the law “violates the Petitioners’ rights under the Free Exercise Clause by forcing them to make statements contrary to, or that undermine, their pro-life religious convictions, while exempting other medical and non-medical providers.”
As previously reported, Gov. Jerry Brown signed the Reproductive FACT Act into law in Oct. 2015, a measure that has been dubbed the “bully bill” by pro-life groups in the state. The bill had been authored by Democratic Assemblyman David Chiu, who outlined in the law that he takes issue with pregnancy centers that don’t provide abortion referrals to women.
“The author contends that, unfortunately, there are nearly 200 licensed and unlicensed clinics known as crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) in California whose goal is to interfere with women’s ability to be fully informed and exercise their reproductive rights, and that CPCs pose as full-service women’s health clinics, but aim to discourage and prevent women from seeking abortions,” it reads.
The legislation therefore requires that licensed pregnancy care centers provide the following message to clients in print: “California has public programs that provide immediate free or low-cost access to comprehensive family planning services (including all FDA-approved methods of contraception), prenatal care, and abortion, for eligible women. To determine whether you qualify, contact the county social services office at (telephone number).”
Violators will be fined $500 for the first offense and $1,000 for each infringement afterward.
Several faith-based pregnancy centers filed suit to challenge the law, including the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates, the Pregnancy Care Clinic and the Fallbrook Pregnancy Resource Center. However, both the federal district court and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals declined to grant an injunction, finding that the requirement served a significant government interest.
“California has a substantial interest in the health of its citizens, including ensuring that its citizens have access to and adequate information about constitutionally-protected medical services like abortion,” wrote Judge Dorothy Nelson, appointed to the bench by then President Jimmy Carter, for the Ninth Circuit last October.
“And given that many of the choices facing pregnant women are time sensitive, such as a woman’s right to have an abortion before viability, we find convincing the AG’s argument that because the licensed notice is disseminated directly to patients whenever they enter a clinic, it is an effective means of informing women about publicly-funded pregnancy services,” she said.
ADF then appealed the matter to the U.S. Supreme Court, which agreed on Monday to accept the case.
“Why should the abortion industry be able to force others—even pro-life centers—to provide free abortion advertising?” ADF Legal Counsel Elissa Graves said in a statement. “Planned Parenthood, which makes millions from abortion, deceives women into believing that abortion is their only choice. Pregnancy care centers, which provide their care for free, were established specifically to help women understand that they have the choice of life for their children, and that they will be there to help them through their pregnancies.”