The United States Supreme Court has ruled that state and local governments cannot force pregnancy resource centers to function as referral agents for abortion clinics. The High Court decision effectively nullifies a California law that was designed to harass pro-life crisis pregnancy agencies by requiring them to promote abortion as an option for unplanned pregnancies. The lawsuit was filed by a pro-life umbrella group called the National Institute of Family Life Advocates. NIFLA challenged a law passed by the California General Assembly known as the FACT Act. The new law established onerous requirements exclusively for both licensed and unlicensed pregnancy resource centers.
The FACT Act stipulated that licensed crisis pregnancy agencies must inform clients that the State of California provides free or low-cost services to pregnant women including abortion. The law required that the pro-life agencies provide women with a phone number to call to obtain information about “abortion services.” Under the provisions of the law, unlicensed pregnancy resource centers were legally obligated to notify their clients that they were not licensed by the State of California to provide medical services and that the services they offer are not delivered by a licensed medical provider.
In a 5-4 decision authored by Justice Clarence Thomas, the Supreme Court ruled that the FACT act was “likely unconstitutional,” and invalidated a decision by the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals denying an injunction to prevent enforcement of the law. Justice Thomas wrote that the law compelled individuals to speak a particular message, and thus was an unconstitutional “content-based regulation of speech.” “By requiring petitioners to inform women how they can obtain state-subsidized abortions–at the same time petitioners try to dissuade women from choosing that option–plainly ‘alters the content’ of petitioners’ speech.” “The FACT act unduly burdens protected speech,” Thomas further wrote. “The notice imposes a government-scripted, speaker-based disclosure requirement that…covers a curiously narrow subset of speakers…This Court’s precedents are deeply skeptical of laws that distinguish among different speakers…They give [states] a powerful tool to impose invidious discrimination of disfavored subjects.”
In a concurring opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote that the FACT Act amounted to unconstitutional “viewpoint discrimination.” “This compels individuals to contradict their most deeply held beliefs, grounded in basic philosophical, ethical, or religious precepts…” Justice Kennedy mocked the claim of the California General Assembly that the law was part of the state’s legacy of “forward thinking.” “It is not forward thinking to force individuals to be an instrument for fostering public adherence to an ideological point of view they find unacceptable.”
“It is forward thinking…to understand the history of authoritarian government as the Founders then knew it…to confirm that history shows how relentless authoritarian regimes are in their attempts to stifle free speech, and to carry those lessons onward as we seek to preserve and teach the necessity of freedom of speech for generations to come,” Kennedy continued.Longtime pro-life Congressman Chris Smith cheered the High Court ruling. “Pregnancy centers were created to affirm life and to love both mother and baby. They want no part of a law requiring them to tell a woman where to go to kill her child. Thankfully, the Supreme Court recognized their First Amendment right to free speech.”
Mark Rienzi, President of the religious liberty law firm The Becket Fund, also applauded the decision. “Crisis pregnancy centers serve women and children according to their religious mission…This ruling proves that 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.” Chuck Donovan, President of the Charlotte Lozier Institute, says the Supreme Court’s action sends a clear message. “This ruling 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.”
One of those examples of government bullying has occurred here in the State of Missouri, where the Board of Aldermen in the City of St. Louis adopted an ordinance intended to throttle the operations of pro-life crisis pregnancy centers. The Missouri Legislature responded during last year’s special session by passing a law prohibiting local governments from adopting regulations that control or interfere with the speech or operations of alternatives to abortion agencies.