Supreme Court should not allow California to force pro-life pregnancy centers to promote abortion

What if the government required all Alcoholics Anonymous groups to recite an advertisement for a local bar before every single meeting? Imagine a group of people, struggling with alcohol abuse, trying hard to leave their addiction behind, being forced to endure a message about happy hour specials. And all this—delivered by an organization whose purpose is to aid people in overcoming alcohol dependency.

You might wonder: How can a government force private organizations to speak a message that is directly at odds with their reason for existing? That would be ridiculous, right?

This is exactly what California is requiring pro-life pregnancy centers to do.

The Reproductive FACT Act requires that pro-life pregnancy centers providing medical services to pregnant women in need must advertise for abortion. These centers must post a sign stating that public programs provide free or low-cost abortion, along with the relevant phone number to call for more information. Those calling that number are then referred to abortion suppliers, such as Planned Parenthood.

Only pro-life centers are subject to this law. Abortion providers are largely exempt from it. The state has decided to target pro-life centers simply because they speak a message that the state opposes.

Pro-life pregnancy centers exist to provide medical assistance, support, and counseling to women experiencing crisis and unplanned pregnancies. They exist to support a woman in choosing life for her unborn child. But the state of California is forcing them to deliver a message that directly conflicts with their reason for existing.

To make matters worse, only pro-life centers are subject to this law. Abortion providers are largely exempt from it. The state has decided to target pro-life centers simply because they speak a message that the state opposes.

The Constitution does not tolerate such discrimination. The state cannot force its citizens to promote government-mandated messages that contradict their religious and moral convictions. We are very hopeful that the U.S. Supreme Court will agree.

The Supreme Court has continually held that requiring citizens to speak a government-compelled message is held to the highest constitutional scrutiny under the First Amendment, because mandating a message necessarily alters the content of one’s speech. Moreover, the lopsided requirement that forces pro-life centers to speak the government’s message, while exempting pro-abortion speakers constitutes blatant viewpoint discrimination. This kind of message favoritism is routinely held to be unconstitutional.

California attempts to justify its unconstitutional law by arguing that pregnancy centers are “deceptive” because they don’t offer or counsel for abortion. But the state never introduced any objective evidence to support the law.

Pregnancy centers aren’t deceptive: They offer vital support, medical care, material assistance (such as diapers, clothing, and other baby supplies), and parenting classes to women who are experiencing an unplanned or crisis pregnancy. They do this because of their pro-life view, which supports both the woman and her unborn child.

The state argues that abortion information is vital to pregnant women, yet the state does not even advertise these abortion services itself. Instead, they seem very concerned with getting the word out through the local pro-life pregnancy centers.

The National Institute of Family and Life Advocates, a member organization of pro-life pregnancy centers, as well as two pro-life pregnancy centers, challenged this law as a violation of the guarantee to free speech. A California federal court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit have both agreed with the state and allowed this unconstitutional law to stand.

On March 20, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in the case and could reverse that within weeks. Courts have already declared similar laws in New York City; Baltimore; Montgomery County, Maryland; and Austin, Texas unconstitutional. Now the highest court in the land has the opportunity to invalidate these types of unconstitutional laws once and for all and protect the right of all citizens not to be forced to speak or promote messages that violate their beliefs.