WASHINGTON — More than 140 members of Congress have joined an amicus brief to the U.S. Supreme Court in support of an appeal from several pregnancy centers in California that are challenging a state law requiring the provision of information on government abortion programs.
“The FACT Act’s requirements do not merely restrict the pro-life centers’ speech, they necessarily and fundamentally alter it—all the while violating the centers’ conscience rights. As speakers in a noncommercial context, these centers have absolute ‘autonomy to choose the content of [their] own message,'” the brief, filed on Tuesday, reads.
“Congress’s tradition of protecting the conscience rights of those who in good faith oppose abortion provides an example of alternative legislative approaches that accommodate, rather than suppress, pro-life views. The FACT Act, in contrast, seeks to enlist pro-life speakers to broadcast, and thus implicitly support, the availability of abortion,” it continues. “This state legislative requirement cannot be justified under strict or intermediate scrutiny and is therefore unconstitutional.”
As previously reported, California 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 may 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. Nelson identifies as an adherent to the Baha’i religion.
“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.
The centers then appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which agreed in November to hear the case. Numerous amicus briefs have been filed in support of the pregnancy centers, including a coalition of 22 states, 41 family policy organizations, 23 legal scholars, and numerous pregnancy centers and pro-life groups nationwide.
The legal brief joined by 144 members of Congress includes Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas, Ben Sasse of Nebraska, James Lankford of Oklahoma, Tom Cotton of Arkansas, Charles Grassley of Iowa, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Steve Daines of Montana, as well as Reps. Kevin McCarthy of California, Steve Scalise of Louisiana, Daniel Webster of Florida, Jody Hice of Georgia, Mark Meadows of North Carolina, Tom Marino of Pennsylvania, Louie Gohmert of Texas, Bob Goodlatte of Virginia and Glenn Grothman of Wisconsin.
“Not only have these pro-life centers chosen ‘not [to] otherwise make’ abortion referrals, they exist to communicate precisely the opposite viewpoint and offer life-affirming options to women. To promote a mother’s option to get an abortion would defeat these centers’ core message,” it reads. “Moreover, many pro-life centers’ deeply held moral convictions and religious beliefs would be violated by forced involvement in abortion referrals.”
Click here to view the 33-page legal brief in full. The names of the supporting congressmen follow at the end of the document.
A decision is expected from the U.S. Supreme Court by the end of June.