On Monday, the Supreme Court announced that it will hear an appeal by a coalition of pro-life advocates who are challenging a California law forcing life-affirming pregnancy centers to advertise abortion. The National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA) is invoking the First Amendment in the first abortion-related case during the Trump administration.
NIFLA praised the Supreme Court for deciding to hear its case (NIFLA v. Becerra), which they call “critical” to upholding “constitutional religious and free speech rights” of pregnancy care centers.
The law in question, California’s 2015 “Reproductive FACT Act” (AB 775), requires pro-life pregnancy centers to have public notices that tell pregnant women about public programs that provide “immediate free or low-cost access” to contraception, “prenatal care and abortion.” The FACT Act expressly exempts clinics that offer birth control and abortifacients, clearly showing that the intent of the law was to regulate pro-life facilities.
It also regulates unlicensed crisis pregnancy centers that do not perform medical services, forcing them to provide print and digital ads with extensive disclaimers in large font and in as many as 13 languages stating they are not licensed. Pregnancy resource centers in California currently face fines and the loss of medical licenses for noncompliance with the FACT Act.
In response to the legislation, the licensed centers felt compelled to fight back against what they feel is a violation of their free speech and free exercise rights. Meanwhile, the unlicensed centers joined them to combat the attempt to drown out the centers’ pro-life messages and discourage them from speaking through advertisements because of the subsequently heightened cost.
Furthermore, in a state already quite abortion-friendly and with virtually no regulations on the procedure, the regulations on pro-life pregnancy centers are arguably excessive and unnecessary. Although the NIFLA petitioners had requested the Supreme Court also consider whether the FACT Act violated their religious liberty, the Court limited the case to the issue of free speech.
However, the upcoming argument on December 5th for the Masterpiece Cakeshop case will be a chance for the Court to clarify its interpretation of the religious liberty test.