Supreme Court Empowers Anti-Abortion Pregnancy Centers

The Supreme Court imperiled the state's requirement that crisis pregnancy centers give medically accurate information on abortions.

(Courtesy photo)

In a whammy to California’s push for reproductive rights, the Supreme Court on Tuesday jeopardized a state law that requires crisis pregnancy centers to give information on abortions.

The Supreme Court issued a 5-4 ruling that declared the California law likely violates the First Amendment, sending the case back to lower courts to reconsider decisions made to uphold the law. NIFLA v. Becerra wasn’t looking so good for the defense as early as March when the Supreme Court expressed deep skepticism about the requirement’s constitutionality.

Crisis pregnancy centers tend to have religious affiliations and present themselves as reproductive health centers while emphasizing the risks and pain associated with abortions. More than 3,000 operate nationwide while about less than a third as many are clinics that provide abortion, Huffington Post reports.

In February, Abortion Care Network launched ads in the Bay Area targeting pregnancy crisis centers for “politically-motivated deception” when telling clients about abortion. There are several centers in the area and three alone in San Francisco.

California’s 2015 Reproductive Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care and Transparency Act, or the FACT Act, was passed to combat misleading or medically inaccurate information about abortions. It requires that crisis pregnancy centers to tell patients in writing that it’s unlicensed, to inform them that there are free or low-cost abortions statewide, and to provide phone numbers to state agencies that would help get them there. 

But in the Tuesday decision, Justice Clarence Thomas rejected that it doesn’t fall under “professional speech.” Justice Anthony Kennedy even compared the California law to “relentless authoritarian regimes” known for stifling free speech.

“Governments must not be allowed to force persons to express a message contrary to their deepest convictions,” Kennedy wrote. “Freedom of speech secures freedom of thought and belief. This law imperils those liberties.”

Justice Stephen Bryer, who voted to uphold the law, wasn’t convinced that the law favors or opposes abortions, or that discrimination was the driving force behind its passing. NARAL Pro-Choice America saw the decision as condoning “deceptive tactics” used by the crisis pregnancy centers and shows the peril of the landmark Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade that keeps abortion legal.

“One vote made all the difference today, and it could also be the only thing between upholding Roe or outlawing legal abortion in America,” NARAL stated Tuesday. “Fake women’s health centers, with the rest of the well-funded and well-connected anti-choice movement, have been working towards this moment for decades.”

The decision could also affect other lawsuits against similar legislation in states like Hawaii and Illinois. To continue to protest against the decision, NARAL Pro-Choice California will hold a rally, dubbed “End the Lies,” at Embarcadero Plaza from 5-6 p.m.

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