The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of a pro-life crisis pregnancy center, shooting down part of a California law that had required such centers to inform patients about abortion services, a mandate the court rejected as compelled speech.
It was a 5-4 decision, with the court’s four liberals opposed..
In the case of National Institute of Family and Life Advocates v. Becerra, Justice Clarence Thomas pointed out the state was requiring the clinics to deliver a message they explicitly oppose.
In a concurring opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy saw the case as a clear issue of free speech, calling it a “a paradigmatic example of the serious threat presented when government seeks to impose its own message in the place of individual speech, thought and expression.”
The plaintiff was represented by Alliance Defending Freedom. ADF Legal Counsel Elissa Graves says the court got this one spot on.
“Today was a great victory for all Americans. The Supreme Court affirmed today that the government cannot force you to speak a message that conflict with your very reason for existing.
“The State of California here used it’s power to try to force pro-life pregnancy centers – and only pro-life pregnancy centers – to promote abortion. The Supreme Court today said that they can’t do that consistent with the first amendment,” said Graves.
Graves elaborated on how California’s FACT Act singled out pro-life pregnancy centers on this issue.
“The law was gerrymandered in such a way as to only apply to pro-life centers. It exempted centers that provided certain services, which included things like birth control and abortafacient contraceptives, things that pro-life pregnancy centers do not wish to provide, because it promoted abortion. They drafted it in this way, so it only applied to a pro-life viewpoint,” said Graves.
Justices Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor wrote dissenting opinions. In reading a summary of the disagreement with the majority opinion, Breyer said the pro-life centers were actually getting special treatment.
“If a state can lawfully require a doctor to tell a woman seeking an abortion about adoption services … why should it not be able to require a medical counselor to tell a woman seeking prenatal care about childbirth and abortion services?” stated Breyer.
Graves says the liberals on the court are comparing apples and oranges. She says Breyer was describing what’s known as informed consent, which patients sign off on prior to a specific procedure, and that is different than what California was requiring from pro-life clinics.
“As Justice Thomas noted in the opinion here, this disclaimer (informing about abortion services) is before any sort of procedure is contemplated. It has to be presented to everyone as soon as they walk in the door.
“It’s not in any way connected to medical services, and that’s the difference. This is not an informed consent provision but a compelled speech provision,” said Graves.
It’s the second major win at the Supreme Court this month for Alliance Defending Freedom. It also represented Jack Phillips and Masterpiece Cakeshop against the State of Colorado after courts in that state ruled Phillips did not have the right to refuse custom decoration of a cake for a same-sex wedding.
In that case, the high court ruled 7-2 in favor of Phillips, but limited the scope of the decision to his mistreatment by the Colorado Civil Rights Commission as opposed to a broader ruling about freedom of conscience or free religious expression.
Nonetheless, Graves says the court delivered a vital, consistent message in these decisions.
“Both ‘Masterpiece’ and today in NIFLA, the court has consistently held that the government cannot express a hostility towards expressions of faith, that this is unconstitutional. That’s exactly what ‘Masterpiece’ said with Jack’s treatment by the Colorado Civil Right Commission and that’s what they said today with the way the State of California treated pro-life Christian pregnancy centers,” said Graves.
The Supreme Court is sending another high profile case back to a lower court for reconsideration. The justices declined to hear the appeal of Washington florist Baronelle Stutzman, who was sued and punished by the state for refusing to provide floral arrangements for longtime customers for their same-sex ceremony. However, they did order the Washington Supreme Court to look at the case again in light of the “Masterpiece” decision.
“They will have to use that clear ruling in ‘Masterpiece’ that you cannot have this hostility toward religion in evaluating her case,” said Graves.