Update: Court says requirements on pregnancy centers violate free speech

IMAGE: CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn


(CNS) — The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 June 26 that a California law that placed
requirements on crisis pregnancy centers that oppose abortion violated the
First Amendment.

its decision in National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA) v.
Becerra, the court found that the law changes the content of the clinic’s
speech “by compelling petitioners to speak a particular message,” and that the
law went further than being a mere “regulation of professional conduct that
incidentally burdens speech.”

state law in question is the Reproductive FACT Act, which says pregnancy
centers must post notices in their facilities about where low-cost abortion
services are available and also must disclose if they have medical personnel on

the oral arguments March 20, some of the justices expressed concerns that the
law might be about specifically targeting crisis pregnancy centers instead of
providing information about abortion, and the decision mentions that, if the
goal of the law were merely providing information about abortion to the public,
that goal could be accomplished in more effective ways that do not require
speakers to deliver unwanted speech.

Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New
York, chair of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life
Activities, praised the ruling as “an important victory for the free speech
rights of pro-life organizations.”

“The Supreme Court today has affirmed that the First Amendment protects the right of all organizations to choose for
themselves not only what to say, but what not to say,” he said in a statement.

“This includes allowing pro-life
pregnancy care centers to continue providing life-affirming support to both
mother and child without being forced by governments to provide free
advertising for the violent act of abortion in direct violation of the center’s
pro-life convictions,” he said.

The USCCB and several other
faith-based groups filed a friend-of-the-court brief before the Supreme Court
supporting the pro-life pregnancy centers in the case.

Rep. Chris Smith, R-New Jersey, who
is co-chair of the Congressional Pro-Life Caucus, said in a statement that “pregnancy centers
want no part of a law requiring them to tell a woman where to go to kill her
child. Thankfully, today the Supreme Court recognized their First Amendment
right to free speech — and to refrain from speaking.”

pregnancy centers like NIFLA serve women and children according to their
religious mission, and California should respect that,” said Mark
Rienzi, president of Becket, which is a nonprofit religious liberty law firm. “This
ruling proves that when it comes to important issues, the government doesn’t
get to tell people what to believe, and it also doesn’t get to tell people what
to say about it.”

Clarence Thomas delivered the opinion of the court, and was joined by Chief
Justice John Roberts and Justices Anthony Kennedy, Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch.
Kennedy filed a concurring opinion which Roberts, Alito and Gorsuch joined.
Justice Stephen Breyer filed a dissenting opinion and was joined by Justices Ruth
Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.

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