By Brittany Jones, Esq., policy manager for Family Policy Alliance®
Today was a monumental day for all those who seek to freely live out their faith. In National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA) v. Becerra, the Court struck down a California state law that forced pro-life pregnancy centers to advertise for state-funded abortions, discrediting themselves in the eyes of women in need and undermining their pro-life mission.
On the heels of the Court’s opinion in Masterpiece Cakeshop in which it said the government could not target Christian cake baker, Jack Phillips, for his faith, the Court has now recognized the need to protect prolife pregnancy centers from government targeting as well. In both these cases, the Court clearly said it is unconstitutional to target a person’s belief. However, the Court went even farther today and reinforced that the government cannot compel a private organization to violate its belief and speak a message that is antithetical to the organization’s very purpose.
How did we get here?
In 2015, California passed the Reproductive FACT Act, requiring that private pregnancy centers advertise for taxpayer-funded abortions and also disclose that they are not licensed for medical care. Proponents of the California law claimed that the Act applies to all facilities that provide care to pregnant women, but in reality, the law only affects crisis pregnancy centers. Ironically, the Act exempts all facilities that are California government insurance providers – which includes all abortion facilities.
Our state-based policy ally California Family Council and national ally Alliance Defending Freedom, who led the lawsuit challenging California’s law, have been fighting this law since the beginning. Family Policy Alliance, together with over 40 of our state-based family policy allies, also joined forces to submit an amicus brief on behalf of the pregnancy centers. We are grateful that a majority of the Justices agreed to uphold free speech and the centers’ right to freely live out their faith.
What the Court said
The Court was asked to determine whether the state of California can force pro-life, crisis pregnancy centers to advertise for state-sponsored abortion clinics. And the Court said no for two reasons.
Restricting pro-life speech
Forcing faith-based pregnancy centers to refer for abortions is not only outrageous, but also unthinkable. Our First Amendment was written to protect against this very situation—where the state attempts to force organizations, in this case those with pro-life beliefs, to promote values that directly oppose their very reason for being.
Even Justice Kennedy in his concurring opinion remarked that the legislature appeared to be targeting the pro-life message. He noted, “This law is a paradigmatic example of the serious threat presented when government seeks to impose its own message in the place of individual speech, thought, and expression. For here the State requires primarily pro-life pregnancy centers to promote the State’s own preferred message advertising abortions. This compels individuals to contradict their most deeply held beliefs, beliefs grounded in basic philosophical, ethical, or religious precepts, or all of these.”
Targeting pro-life people/entities and diminishing the pregnancy centers’ ability to help those in need
Just as the Court denounced the state government targeting Christian beliefs in Masterpiece Cakeshop, the Court also rejected targeting those with pro-life beliefs in this case. The Court noted that the California legislature intentionally used this law to target pro-life organizations.
Justice Thomas, in the majority opinion, wrote that this Act was targeting specific speakers rather than specific speech in violation of the First Amendment. Further, the Court recognized that the requirements of the Act would essentially drown out the pregnancy centers’ message and keep them from using certain forms of advertising. Pregnancy centers provide critical hope and support to women in crisis, and they must be allowed to participate in our culture.
Where do we go from here?
California’s law was just an indication of what is going on across the nation. Pregnancy centers have been facing harsh targeting from members of the abortion industry—and their allies in state legislatures. Activists on the Left work to undermine pregnancy centers using online bullying tactics. Legislatures have been considering bills that would restrict pregnancy centers’ ability to provide care.
The Court said today that the government cannot bully pregnancy centers to speak a message that they disagree with—and now is the time for state legislatures to protect these centers so that they can continue to serve and minister to women in a time of need. And lawmakers also must continue to ensure that the abortionists who actually perform the invasive abortion procedure are held accountable and follow the law.
We hope you will continue to partner with Family Policy Alliance and the state-based family policy council ally in your state to ensure that everyone has the ability to freely live out their faith—without unjust interference by the government.