Pregnancy Care Centers win at Supreme Court
by Gail Finke
The United States Supreme Court upheld the free speech rights of pro-life pregnancy centers today, overturning a 9thCircuit Court of Appeals ruling that allowed California to require that all pregnancy care centers (PCCs) tell their clients where to obtain free, state-funded abortions.
The 5-4 ruling on National Institute of Family Life and Advocates (NIFLA) v. Becerrafound that the law, which mandated that all PCCs post signs notifying that free or low-cost medical care and abortions were available elsewhere, was likely a form of “compelled speech” that violated the First Amendment.
Because the law had never gone into effect, the Supreme Court decision does not say it violates Freedom of Speech, but that it was likely to be found to do so if it did go into effect.
A second case covered in the ruling contested a similar requirement that PCCs that were not medical clinics – many of them small “crisis pregnancy centers” run by churches and offering pregnancy tests, emergency help, referrals, and counseling – to post signs saying that they were not licensed medical facilities.
Proponents of the law argued that PPCs are “deceptive,” fooling women into think that they are abortion centers or that they provide medical care. Opponents of the law said that California women know where to obtain abortions and that, because they are opposed to abortion, requiring PCCs to post the signs was requiring them to advertise services they found morally wrong.
The law would have imposed a $500 fine for a first offense, and a $1,000 for each violation that followed.
National pro-life organizations celebrated the decision, while national pro-abortion groups called it disastrous for women’s health. “The Supreme Court just ruled 5-4 that unlicensed fake women’s health centers are free to dress up as doctors and deliberately lie to women about their reproductive healthcare,” NARAL Pro-Choice America wrote, while EMILY’s List wrote, “The Supreme Court just ruled to allow anti-choice extremists to lie to patients in fake women’s health centers.”
“Planned Parenthood and the abortion industry fought to destroy the free speech rights of pro-life individuals in California who daily work to help women choose life for their pre-born infants,” said Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life, in a statement following the ruling.
“As the head of an organization with more than 1,200 chapters in all 50 states, I am celebrating this hard-won victory, protecting the rights of groups like mine that work in the public arena every day spreading a message offensive to groups like Planned Parenthood, a message of hope and a future. Women deserve love, support and assistance when pregnant, rather than a hard-sell for abortion.”
“We are extremely pleased to see the nation’s pro-life pregnancy centers and their advocates vindicated by the Supreme Court,” said Chuck Donovan, president of the Charlotte Lozier Institute, the research arm of Susan B. Anthony List. “The Court sent a clear message today that California’s cruel mandate unacceptably infringes on pregnancy centers’ First Amendment liberties – a ruling that will reverberate across the country wherever these remarkable nonprofits have been subjected to state bullying as they strive to carry out their mission of love. Pregnancy centers exist to serve and support mothers in the courageous decision to give their children life, even under difficult circumstances … The biggest winners in today’s decision are women, children, and families.”
Local pro-life organizations were quick to issue statements or social media posts.
“Today’s ruling is the most significant Supreme Court victory for pregnancy centers in the US, who have been targeted around the nation and harassed to provide a state-sponsored message of abortion,” said Vivian Koob, executive director of the Elizabeth’s New Life Center network of PCCs based in Dayton. “As God is the author of life, and as we stand as His humble servants in the gap between life and death for our preborn brothers and sisters, we celebrate in His name for one more victory for life! May His name be praised.”
“The California Reproductive FACT Act was a deliberate attack by the abortion industry to gain an advantage over pro-life pregnancy centers, and, at the heart of the matter, to squelch the free speech rights of American citizens,” said Meg Wittman, executive director of Right to Life of Greater Cincinnati. It is unfortunate and telling that four justices dissented, placing their abortion agenda above constitutional rights. However, we are relieved and grateful that the Supreme Court has ruled in favor of life today. Free speech does indeed have life!”
“Today is a a day of justice for free speech and standing against abortion and the culture of death,” Bryan Kemper, founder of Stand True Prolife Outreach in Troy, and youth outreach coordinator for Priests for Life, posted on social media. “SCOTUS deciding in favor of NIFLA willallow Pregnancy Centers to continue saving lives, not ripping children from their mothers’ wombs.”
“This unjust law was one of the worst offenses against First Amendment right,” Mercer County Right to Life announced over social media. “We applaud the Supreme Court for upholding the free speech rights of pro-life centers.”
NIFLA, a public interest law firm that serves PCCs, sued California on behalf of more than 125 of its member centers. The Christian non-profit Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), handled that case.
Justice Clarence Thomas wrote the decision (read it here) and Justice Anthoy Kennedy wrote a concurring opinion. Chief Justice John Roberts concurred, along with Justice Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch. Justice Stephen Breyer wrote the opposing opinion and Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan concurred.
About 200 PCCs operate in California. They provide a range of care and services to pregnant women and their spouses or partners. Nationally, more than 2,700 PCCs provide care in every state and territory.
A forthcoming report compiled by the Charlotte Lozier Institute and the March for Life Education Fund surveyed pregnancy care centers around the country. A press release from the Susan B. Anthony List says the report found that in 2017, PCCs:
- provided almost 2,000,000 people with free services, with estimated community cost savings of at least $161 million annually
- carried out 679,600 free pregnancy tests
- provided parenting courses to 295,900 mothers and fathers
- provided more than 1 million students with sexual risk avoidance education presentations
The report also found that seven out of every 10 PCCs offer free ultrasounds, and that more than 100 “mobile ultrasound units” (vans and other vehicles with ultrasound equipment that can visit neighborhoods, campuses, events, etc.) are in use around the country. Also in 2017, registered nurse sonographers and registered diagnostic medical sonographers recorded more than 400,100 volunteer hours at PCCs, and more than 67,400 people volunteer at PCCs.