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US Supreme Court considers free speech for pro-life pregnancy centres

The United States Supreme Court (Getty Images)

The US Supreme Court is currently adjudicating on a new California law that requires crisis pregnancy centres to provide clients with information on state-funded abortions. If the law is upheld, critics say it could set a dangerous precedent: state-funded pro-abortion activism.

Crisis pregnancy centres say they offer a wide range of non-medical support to expecting mothers who might otherwise terminate their pregnancy.

In 2015, the state passed the Reproductive Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care and Transparency Act (FACT Act), mandating that licensed centres display pamphlets and signs with the following message: “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.”

Unlicensed centres, meanwhile, are required to notify clients that their centre “is not licensed as a medical facility by the state of California and has no licensed medical provider who provides or directly supervises the provision of services.”

The law met fierce resistance from pro-life activists, who say that Medi-Cal, the state’s public health insurance provider, already spends tens of millions of tax dollars on abortions every year. The FACT Act, opponents argue, effectively allows the government to promote abortion as well as fund it.

The National Institute of Family and Life Advocates sued the State of California (represented by Attorney General Xavier Becerra) on First Amendment grounds: freedom of speech and freedom of religion. The Supreme Court is now considering the case of National Institute of Family and Life Advocates v. Becerra.

Michael Ferris, general counsel for the Alliance Defending Freedom, argued against the FACT Act before the Court. He subsequently released a statement on the ADF’s website saying:

Even if you are not pro-life, do you want the government setting up its own advertising mandates for nonprofit organizations and then punishing any who disagree? The First Amendment does not allow the government to force you to speak its message. That’s especially true when you are pursuing a religious mission of simply providing resources and support to women free of charge.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan, chairman of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops’ pro-life committee, also issued a press release:

Pro-life pregnancy care centres embody everything that is right and good in our nation: generosity, compassion and love that is offered to support both mother and child. But rather than applauding and encouraging the selfless and life-affirming work of these centers, some governments want to force them to provide free advertising for the violent act of abortion in direct violation of their pro-life convictions and the First Amendment. The United States Supreme Court cannot let this happen. We pray that the Court will do the right thing and uphold our fundamental right to free speech when it decides this case.

After hearing oral argments for on March 20th, SCOTUSBlog (which is not affiliated with the Court itself) concluded that the majority of Justices – including Elena Kagan, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, and Anthony Kennedy – were sceptical of the laws’ constitutionality. Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor, meanwhile, appeared more sympathetic to California’s case.