U.S. Supreme Court Rules for Freedom of Speech and Religion

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court ruled against a California law that would have forced faith-based crisis pregnancy centers to tell patients that the state offers subsidized abortions.

The National Institute of Family and Life Advocates exists to protect life-affirming pregnancy centers that empower women and families to choose life for their unborn children, rather than the easier choice of abortion.  The NIFLA provides legal counseling, education, and training for pregnant women and represents more than more than 1,400 pro-life pregnancy centers across the country, 1,100 of which operate as licensed medical clinics.

California’s pro-abortion legislature passed the law three years ago forcing the NIFLA pregnancy centers, over 200 of which are in California, to notify women that abortion is an option for them. The legislature believes that the NIFLA centers use deceptive advertising and counseling practices to confuse or intimidate women.

By a 5-4 vote, the justices said the disclosure rule probably amounts to compelled speech that violates the 1st Amendment. The court did not strike down the California law, but sent the case back to lower courts with instructions that enforcement of the measure be stayed while the case works its way through the court system. 

Speaking for the court, Justice Thomas said the California law unfairly targeted pregnancy centers that oppose abortion. “Here, for example, licensed clinics must provide a government-drafted script about the availability of state-services. One of those services is abortion, the very practice the [centers] are devoted to opposing,” he said.

In a concurring opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy said the legislative history of the law shows the faith-based centers were “targeted because of their beliefs.… Governments must not be allowed to force persons to express a message contrary to their deepest convictions.”

California Assemblyman David Chiu (D-San Francisco), who authored the law, said the decision would mean some California women would be less informed and more susceptible to manipulation.  “These fake health centers are dangerous to women’s health,’’ he said. “Today is a stark reminder that under a Supreme Court with a Trump majority, reproductive rights are more vulnerable than ever.”