Pro-life pregnancy centers should not be forced to steer pregnant women to abortion clinics, according to the Supreme Court.
The High Court said a California law that threatened massive fines against crisis pregnancy centers unless they gave their customers information about obtaining abortions likely violates the First Amendment. Many of those centers are religious charities and sued the state alleging that lawmakers were compelling them to advocate practices they found objectionable. The 5-4 majority agreed, saying the law violated their constitutional right to free speech.
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"The (law) unduly burdens protected speech," the ruling written by Justice Clarence Thomas said. "It imposes a government-scripted, speaker-based disclosure requirement that is wholly disconnected from the State's informational interest."
Thomas took issue with the fact that the law was targeted at specific groups, rather than applied to all practitioners in the state. The narrow focus of the law further exacerbated the infringement of speech rights and was designed to advance a favored point of view.
"One of the state-sponsored services that the licensed notice requires petitioners to advertise is abortion—the very practice that petitioners are devoted to opposing," the majority said.
Four Democrat-appointed justices dissented from the case. Justice Stephen Breyer said the law was appropriate and that the majority could undermine disclosure laws in other fields, such as securities, by taking too broad a view of free speech in professional environments. He worried the First Amendment could now be used as a "weapon" against regulation.
"Medical professionals do not, generally speaking, have a right to use the Constitution as a weapon allowing them rigorously to control the content of those reasonable conditions," the dissent said. "Using the First Amendment to strike down economic and social laws that legislatures long would have thought themselves free to enact will, for the American public, obscure, not clarify, the true value of protecting freedom of speech."
Pro-life groups welcomed the decision. Terry Schilling, president of the American Principles Project, said it was a victory for pluralism and religious liberty.
The 2017 Supreme Court season has been a productive one for religious believers after President Trump appointed Justice Neil Gorsuch to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia on the bench. The Court ruled 7-2 in favor of a Colorado baker who declined to participate in a gay wedding after finding that state regulators discriminated against the baker's religious beliefs. Schilling said that and the pregnancy center case should send a clear message to liberals who attempt to coerce speech from private citizens.
"This summer has been a nightmare for so-called progressives. First the Court rules that Christians must be treated with dignity and respect during their proceedings and now they have thrown out a law that forced people to advocate for abortion," Schilling said.
The ruling may not only affect California. Illinois and Hawaii have similar laws on the books, which spurred lawsuits from local pregnancy centers there. Schilling said he hopes lower courts will follow the Supreme Court in striking down such laws.
"By ruling against California's blatantly unconstitutional law, the Court has made it clear that freedom of speech still remains protected, even when threatened by the left's ever-intensifying efforts to force people of faith to speak and act against their beliefs," he said. "We hope that crisis pregnancy centers in California will now be able to continue with their important work of providing assistance to women and children in need, unharassed by hostile state legislators."