The Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that California’s crisis pregnancy centers do not have to post notices or talk to patients about state services regarding abortions. In the 5-4 decision, the conservative majority said a law requiring such communication probably violates free speech rights.
In facilities nationwide, the language and information counselors, nurses and doctors give to women who are pregnant represents one of the biggest battlegrounds in women’s reproductive rights. According to the Guttmacher Institute, 29 states detail information that must be provided. Some of that includes highly controversial claims disputed by abortion-rights proponents, such as the ability of a fetus to feel pain (required in 13 states) and the concept of personhood beginning at conception (required in six states).
California lawmakers passed the Reproductive FACT Act in 2015, citing concern some organizations set up for the purpose of persuading women to carry their fetuses to term had counseling practices that tried to “confuse” or “misinform” women about their options.
The high court opinion, written by Justice Clarence Thomas, says the state’s requirement may violate the First Amendment because it is antithetical to these centers’ mission to preserve pregnancies.
Here is how various stakeholders are reacting to the news:
“Pro-life pregnancy centers provide, at no charge, the practical resources, information and emotional help women need to choose life for their baby, and to care for their child long after they are born. Pregnancy resource centers should not be compelled to speak a message that goes against the very nature of their existence. We are thankful they can continue their good work without fear of punishment.”
— Tony Perkins, president, Family Research Council
“Advertising or promoting abortion runs directly counter to the very reason pregnancy care centers exist — namely to enable and support women who want to choose life for their children to do so. The government has no business forcing these centers to violate their First Amendment right to free speech and, in doing so, work against their life-affirming mission.”
— Jeanne Mancini, president, March for Life
“I am disappointed in today’s Supreme Court decision that does not recognize the threat that fake women’s health centers pose to patients. As doctors, we know it’s important for pregnant women to have all of the information and resources they need. No one should use deceptive or manipulative tactics to prevent someone from learning about abortion or contraception, and no one should delay women from getting care.”
— Willie Parker, board chair, the Physicians for Reproductive Health
“Today’s decision will harm women, full stop. The Supreme Court’s ruling will allow fake health clinics to continue peddling anti-choice propaganda and misinformation. It will let them lie to vulnerable women, pretend to offer licensed medical providers and withhold potentially lifesaving medical care.”
— Stephanie Schriock, president, Emily’s List, which supports Democratic female candidates who support abortion rights
“The state of California, in a classic example of compelled speech, sought to force nonprofit organizations deeply committed to supporting pregnant women who wish to give birth to advertise the state’s free or low-cost abortions. The court recognized this injustice as what it is: a violation of the First Amendment rights that make America a beacon and an example to the world.”
— Grazie Pozo Christie, policy adviser, The Catholic Association