The Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that “crisis pregnancy centers” in California do not have to provide women with information about state-funded contraception or abortion. These centers are typically religion-based and are opposed to abortion because of their faith. The law under consideration is the California Reproductive Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care, and Transparency Act, also known as the FACT Act. ABC News reports that the law requires licensed centers operated by abortion opponents post notices that inform a woman that California provides free or low-cost abortions, contraception, and prenatal care. The notices must be available in a total of 13 languages.
In a 5-4 decision, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote that forcing the staff of these centers is a violation of the First Amendment because it runs counter to their faith. He also stated that requiring notices in 13 languages is burdensome to the centers.
Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote in his opinion that, “Governments must not be allowed to force persons to express a message contrary to their deepest convictions. Freedom of speech secures freedom of thought and belief. This law imperils those liberties.”
The New York Times reports that in his letter of dissent, Justice Stephen G. Breyer stated that he believes the court is acting in an inconsistent manner, pointing to a prior ruling on a Pennsylvania case that the court upheld a law requiring doctors who perform abortions to provide information about adoption to their patients.
“If a state can lawfully require a doctor to tell a woman seeking an abortion about adoption services, why should it not be able, as here, to require a medical counselor to tell a woman seeking prenatal care or other reproductive health care about childbirth and abortion services?”
Justice Thomas responded that the difference is that the Pennsylvania decision involved a medical procedure. Justice Breyer reasserted his disagreement when he said that both giving birth and having an abortion are medical procedures with inherent risks. He also said the decision about requiring notices in 13 languages was not one that should be decided by the Supreme Court but rather by Los Angeles. He stated that completely eliminating a requirement for multiple languages was likely not the right decision, but that reducing the number of languages may be appropriate.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions voiced his support of the Supreme Court’s decision.
“Speakers should not be forced by their government to promote a message with which they disagree, and pro-life pregnancy centers in California should not be forced to advertise abortion and undermine the very reason they exist.”
The California attorney general disagreed with Sessions and called the decision “unfortunate.”
The California legislature found that about 200 anti-abortion centers located inside state lines used advertising and counseling that is purposely deceptive and confusing and that keeps women from being able to make informed decisions about healthcare.
Another part of the law applies to unlicensed centers. California law doesn’t require them to provide information about state-funded alternatives, but they are required to inform women that they are not licensed by the state.