California pregnancy centers have been forced for two years now to operate under the Reproductive FACT Act, which has been dubbed the “bully bill” by pro-lifers. Now, however, the tide may be turning, as the U.S. Supreme Court has granted cert in deciding the matter.
Alliance Defending Freedom revealed the news in a Monday newsbreak. ADF is representing a pregnancy center network and two pregnancy centers in California, with National Institute of Family and Life Advocates v. Becerra.
This hopeful news comes after more good news from the courts.
At the end of October, Superior Court Judge Gloria Trask ruled that the law violated the First Amendment rights of the plaintiff Scott Scharpen, who is the pastor of Rock Valley Christian Church in Murietta. Judge Trask referred to the law, which required pro-life pregnancy centers to advertise that the state offered “free or low-cost access… to abortion,” as a form of “compelled speech” from the state.
Judge Trask’s decision blocked the law, which California’s pro-choice Attorney General Xavier Becerra vowed to appeal.
In October 2016, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the law could stand. This particularly pro-choice circuit is known for being the most overturned of all the circuit courts, at a rate of 80 percent.
The decision prompted pro-life forces to appeal to the Supreme Court, which was finally granted after months of trying. As SCOTUS blog specified on Monday morning:
After asking the lower court to send the record in the case – a sure sign that at least one justice is looking at the case closely — today the court granted review to decide whether the disclosures required by the California law violate the First Amendment’s free speech clause; it declined to decide whether the disclosures run afoul of another part of the First Amendment that bars the government from prohibiting the free exercise of religion.
While many pregnancy centers are run by Christians, as Go Mobile for Life is, not all are. That the justices are willing to hear arguments as to how California violates their free speech rights is just as important. It should be a concern to all Americans, regardless of their faith and views on abortion, that citizens are forced to help a state promote abortion against their sincerely held beliefs.
“It’s unthinkable for the government to force anyone to provide free advertising for the abortion industry. This is especially true of pregnancy care centers, which exist to care for women who want to have their babies,” Kevin Theriot, Senior Counsel and Vice President of the Center for Life with ADF, said. “The state shouldn’t have the power to punish anyone for being pro-life. Instead, it should protect freedom of speech and freedom from coerced speech,” he added.
Judge Trask expressed a similar concern, especially since the state has other means than through the use of what ADF aptly calls “coerced speech,” when it comes to the law. “The statute compels the clinic to speak words with which it profoundly disagrees when the state has numerous alternative methods of publishing its message,” she pointed out.
A decision in favor of the pregnancy centers would certainly benefit the free speech rights of those who run them in California. It would also help the message of life for mothers and their unborn children.
Depending on the scope of the decision, however, it could ultimately decide the fate of pregnancy centers in other states and localities, including the current fight against one in Illinois. Pro-choicers are also hoping to curtail efforts of such centers in Hartford, Connecticut.
A favorable decision is not only paramount for the sake of clarity, but because it is not just free speech rights of Americans, but the lives of those not yet born, depend on it.