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Supremes slap down California's abortion promotion

Bob Unruh

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Pro-lifers rally outside the U.S. Supreme Court in 2014 (Photo: American Life League)

The U.S. Supreme Court Tuesday slapped down – hard – California’s scheme to promote abortion at the expense of pro-life crisis pregnancy centers, deciding that requiring them to advertise nearby abortionists likely violates the First Amendment.

“Content-based laws ‘target speech based on its communicative content’ and ‘are presumptively unconstitutional and may be justified only if the government proves that they are narrowly tailored to serve compelling state interests,'” the opinion explained.

“The licensed notice is a content-based regulation. By compelling petitioners to speak a particular message, it ‘alters the content of [their] speech.'”

Lawmakers in California wanted to promote abortion through the Reproductive Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care, and Transparency Act, which demanded that pro-life centers that primarily serve pregnant women inform the women of nearby abortion businesses.

There were varying requirements for licensed clinics, which do provide medical services, and unlicensed, which offer help other than medical care.

While the lower courts said they would allow the state to force the centers to carry the state’s message because it was “professional” speech, the high court said that’s nonsense.

“This court has never recognized ‘professional speech’ as a separate category of speech subject to different rules. Speech is not unprotected merely because it is uttered by professionals.”

The 5-4 majority, written by Justice Clarence Thomas, explained that the state targeted “pro-life (largely Christian belief-based) organizations that offer a limited range of free pregnancy options, counseling, and other services.

“Here … licensed clinics must provide a government-drafted script about the availability of state-sponsored services, as well as contact information for how to obtain them. One of those services is abortion – the very practice that petitioners are devoted to opposing,” he wrote.

“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 – the licensed notice plainly ‘alters the content’ of petitioners’ speech.

“Tellingly, many facilities that provide the exact same services as covered facilities – such as general practice clinics … are not required to provide the licensed notice,” the majority said. So, “the licensed notice regulates speech as speech.”

“If California’s goal is to educate low-income women about the services it provides, then the licensed notice is ‘wildly underinclusive.'”

Regarding the demands of unlicensed centers?

“We need not decide what type of state interest is sufficient to sustain a disclosure requirement like the unlicensed notice. California has not demonstrated any justification for the unlicensed notice that is more than ‘purely hypothetical,'” the opinion said.

“The application of the unlicensed notice to advertisements demonstrates just how burdensome it is. The notice applies to all ‘print and digital advertising materials’ by an unlicensed covered facility … These materials must include a government-drafted statement that ‘this facility is not licensed as a medical facility by the state of California and has no licensed medical provider who provides or directly supervises the provision of services.’ An unlicensed facility must call attention to the notice, instead of its own message, by some method such as larger text or contrasting type or color. This scripted lanauge must be posted in English and as many other languages as California chooses to require…”

The opinion noticed California officials admitted that a billboard saying “Choose Life” would have to be surrounded with “a 29-word statement from the government, in as many as 13 different languages.”

The opinion sent the case back to the California courts “for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.”

The pro-abortion wing of the court, Breyer, Ginsburg, Sotomayor and Kagan, would have let the state force organizations to carry a message with which they disagree.

The state had argued that it could not adequately promote abortion without having pregnancy centers do its work.

California’s attorney general, Xavier Becerra, has actively promoted abortion, even to the point of filing criminal charges against two pro-life activists who filmed, in public locations, abortion industry participants bragging about selling the body parts of unborn children.

In recent years, similar laws were totally or mostly overturned in cases in Austin, Texas; Montgomery County, Maryland; Baltimore; and New York City.

It was recently reported in Joseph Farah’s G2 Bulletin that the federal government, in an analysis, said the ruling could have a significant impact on speech rights and related laws and regulations beyond the abortion issue.

“The parties in National Institute of Family and Life Advocates v. Becerra dispute whether California’s Reproductive FACT Act is a viewpoint – or content-based restriction on speech subject to strict scrutiny (and thus presumptively invalid) or a professional or commercial regulation subject to less exacting scrutiny,” the government analysis says.

“The path the court chooses could have implications for lawmakers both in the context of family planning or pregnancy-related services and, more broadly, in the regulation of professional and commercial activities.”

The most recent development in the issue came when the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals struck down a Baltimore ordinance imposing the requirement.

The court found that the ordinance violated the free speech clause of the First Amendment.

The opinion said: “The compelled speech at issue here raises particularly troubling First Amendment concerns. At bottom, the disclaimer portrays abortion as one among a menu of morally equivalent choices. While that may be the city’s view, it is not the center’s.”

The ruling also found the ordinance was an impermissible attempt by Baltimore officials “to use compelled speech as a weapon to run its ideological foes into the ground.”


Article printed from WND: