The U.S. Supreme Court hears oral arguments today for a major case that could have an impact on free speech, religious liberty and the work of pro-life pregnancy centers across the country. National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA) v. Becerra challenges a 2015 state law in California that forces pro-life pregnancy centers to advertise the availability of free or low-cost abortions by posting notices in their clinics, in their printed materials, and on their website. The pro-life pregnancy centers argue that the law violates the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment because advertising such a message goes against their deeply held religious beliefs and because the government cannot compel speech. The state of California contends that the law is needed because women are “unaware of the public programs available to them.”
“No one should be forced to provide free advertising for the abortion industry—least of all pro-life pregnancy centers,” said Michael Farris, President of Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) who is handling the case. “Yet here, the government designed this statute to single out pro-life pregnancy centers and force them to use their walls as billboards to point the way to abortion.”
NC Family signed on to a “friend-of-the-court” brief for this case in January, urging the U.S. Supreme Court to support the free speech rights of the pro-life pregnancy centers. The amicus brief was filed on behalf of 41 family policy organizations and was authored by David French, a former ADF attorney and current Senior Fellow at the National Review Institute.
In the brief, French argues “There are few state actions more repugnant to the consciences of sincere, pro-life citizens than demanding that they advertise free or low-cost access to the deadly procedure they work so mightily to oppose. The judgment of the court below must be reversed.”
Oral Arguments were heard today, but a decision will probably not be issued until the end of the Supreme Court’s term in June.
In 2015, the California State legislature passed the “Reproductive FACT Act,” which requires all licensed medical facilities, “whose primary purpose is providing family planning or pregnancy-related services,” to visibly post the following message at their facility:
“California has public programs that provide immediate free or low-cost access to comprehensive family planning services (including all FDA-approved methods of contraception), prenatal care, and abortion for eligible women. To determine whether you qualify, contact the county social services office at [insert the telephone number].”
Pro-life pregnancy centers, which receive no public funding but are licensed, fall under the jurisdiction of this law and are thus required to post the above message. If they fail to do so, they would be “liable for a civil penalty of five hundred dollars ($500) for a first offense and one thousand dollars ($1,000) for each subsequent offense.”
In October of 2015, a national organization of pregnancy centers called the National Institute of Family Life Advocates (NIFLA) asked a federal district court for a preliminary injunction, but was denied. They subsequently appealed that decision to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, where they were also unsuccessful. They then appealed the case to the U.S. Supreme Court, which took the case; and oral arguments were heard today, Tuesday March 20.