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The U.S. Supreme Court today decided to hear a pro-life challenge against a California law that forces pro-life centers, such as pregnancy medical clinics, to advertise abortion. The decision marks the first time the country’s highest court will hear an abortion-related case during the Trump administration.
Pro-life advocates who have opposed the law, including The National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA), praised the Supreme Court for deciding to hear what it called a “critical free speech case.”
“California’s threat to pro-life pregnancy care centers and medical clinics counts among the most flagrant violations of constitutional religious and free speech rights in the nation,” said NIFLA founder and president Thomas Glessner, J.D, in a statement.
“The implications of the Supreme Court’s decision in this case will reverberate nationwide, to similar unconstitutional laws in Illinois and Hawaii,” he added.
California’s 2015 “Reproductive FACT Act” (AB 775) requires pro-life pregnancy centers to post signage notifying their patients where and how they can receive state taxpayer-funded abortions. The law applied to hundreds of privately funded pregnancy centers.
The pro-life centers asked the Supreme Court to hear their case after the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against them last year. The court sided with the state in a 3-0 ruling, saying that the state was acting within its power of regulating medical providers. The appeals court also said that abortion advertisements in pro-life centers did not violate free speech rights because such signage stated facts without encouraging women to actually seek abortion
Earlier this year Pacific Justice Institute filed a request for the Supreme Court to review the law, arguing that the state had effectively stripped pro-life centers and the people who run them of their right to free speech.
In March, Alliance Defending Freedom petitioned the Supreme Court to halt the law, arguing that it forced the pro-life centers to act contrary to their core mission and violated their constitutionally protected freedoms.
Last month a California Superior Court Justice put a halt to the law with a permanent injunction, ruling that the state cannot force pro-life pregnancy centers to post signage promoting state-covered abortions to their clients.
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra is defending the contested law.
Alliance Defending Freedom’s Senior Counsel Kevin Theriot welcomed the Supreme Court’s decision to hear the case.
“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,” he said in a statement.
“The state should protect freedom of speech and freedom from coerced speech. Information about abortion is just about everywhere, so the government doesn’t need to punish pro-life centers for declining to advertise for the very act they can’t promote,” he added.
Kevin T. Snider, a lawyer for A Woman’s Friend Pregnancy Resource Clinic and Alternative Women’s Center, argued in court papers that his clients cannot be compelled to post notifications in their centers against their religious convictions.
“Based on religious convictions, these clinics strongly object to being compelled to speak the messages required by the Act’s disclosure,” he wrote.
Pro-life groups across the country praised the Supreme Court’s decision to hear the case.
Ashley McGuire, Senior Fellow with The Catholic Association, said that she hopes the Supreme Court will “put an end to these unwarranted free speech assaults so that the centers and their staff can go on helping women without harassment from the abortion industry .”
“Recent efforts to force America’s pregnancy centers to advertise for abortion isn’t just an attack on free speech, it’s an attack on the vulnerable women who find help and healing in them. These centers offer pregnant women in crisis a true choice in addition to dignified care and do so with no profit motive and no political agenda, unlike their abortion clinic alternatives,” she said.
Jeanne Mancini, President of March for Life, also praised the decision.
“These benevolent centers, which exist solely to provide love and support for women facing unexpected pregnancies and have no financial interest at stake, should not be forced to violate their first amendment right to freedom of speech and conscience. March for Life will showcase the heroic work of the pregnancy care movement at the 2018 March for Life with the theme ‘Love Saves Lives,'” she said.
Catherine Glenn Foste of Americans United for Life said she was “pleased” to hear the decision.
“Pregnancy Care Centers provide holistic care, resources, and hope for vulnerable women who are facing unplanned pregnancies, and they should not be compelled to promote the abortion industry’s agenda by posting signs that violate their mission and core values,” she said.
Glessner said that California pro-life centers should not be penalized for doing their job in suggesting to women alternatives to abortion.
“The price of non-compliance with the so-called ‘FACT Act’ is severe: pregnancy resource centers face fines and the loss of medical licenses for noncompliance,” he said. “This punishment would harm these centers as well as the vulnerable pregnant women to whom these pro-life groups provide free counseling and care.”
It is expected that the high court will hear arguments in the case NIFLA vs. Becerra next year and issues a ruling before the end of June.