Supreme Court May Hear Free Speech Challenge To California Abortion Counseling

Faith-based pregnancy centers don't want to talk about contraception, abortion.

An anti-abortion group has asked the Supreme Court to hear its claim that a California law requiring abortion and contraceptive information at faith-based pregnancy centers violates the constitutional right to free speech.

Hundreds of faith-based “pregnancy centers” in California serve to convince women to continue their pregnancies, even if they do not want to. California’s two-year-old Reproductive FACT Act requires the centers to disclose whether they actually have medical professionals on staff, and to inform patients that the state offers subsidized contraception and abortion.

The National Institute for Family and Life Advocates, which brought the appeal, claims the state law amounts to illegal “compelled speech,” the Los Angeles Times notes.

Abortion rights activists and state politicians who backed the law say they were concerned that women were being misled and tricked into having babies at these centers, which present themselves as medical clinics. The case pits womens’ rights to abortion, contraception and medical information against religious beliefs.

The group bringing the challenge is represented by one of President Donald Trump’s personal attorneys, Jay Alan Sekulow. This month, the Trump administration decided to allow employers to refuse to pay for health insurance covering female workers’ contraception if they have a religious or “moral” objection to it. 

Sekulow said the issue is whether the state can “compel nonprofit, faith-based, pro-life licensed medical facilities, against their religious convictions ....  to advertise a government program that provides free or low-cost abortions.

Last year, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected challenges to the law that argued the disclosures were compelled speech that violated the First Amendment. The judges ruled that the law served to protect the welfare of patients by “fully informing Californians” of available health services. 

Other courts have reached different conclusions about similar laws in other states. An appeals court in 2014 struck down most of a New York City law that required pregnancy centers to inform patients on whether they provided abortions or referrals for abortion. The appeals court said the requirement “mandates discussion of a controversial political topic” and is therefore unconstitutional. But the city could require centers to reveal whether they had licensed medical professionals, judges ruled.

Three similar appeals are now before the Supreme Court, which may decide as early as Monday whether to hear the California case.