In June, the Supreme Court ruled that California pregnancy centers which oppose abortion must no longer advertise the practice. The state of California had required all licensed pregnancy clinics to provide clients with information about low-cost abortion and contraception options—regardless of the clinics’ religious beliefs or stance on abortion.
Justice Clarence Thomas wrote the majority opinion for the Court, which decided the case—National Institute of Family and Life Advocates v. Becerra—on a 5-4 vote. California may publicize government-sponsored abortion programs, stated Thomas, but the state “cannot co-opt the licensed facilities to deliver its message for it.”
Justice Anthony Kennedy’s concurring opinion emphasized pregnancy clinics’ First Amendment liberties: “Governments must not be allowed to force persons to express a message contrary to their deepest convictions. Freedom of speech secures freedom of thought and belief. [California’s law] imperils those liberties,” Kennedy wrote.
Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch also deemed California’s law unconstitutional. Meanwhile, Justice Stephen Breyer expressed the minority’s dissenting view from the bench.
Breyer argued that the Court should honor a previous 1992 decision in which it required Pennsylvania doctors to inform their patients about adoption services. Why should states not similarly require pregnancy centers to inform clients about abortion services? Breyer asked. “As the question suggests, there is no convincing reason to distinguish between information about adoption and information about abortion in this context,” he stated.
Perhaps the First Amendment itself provides the distinguishing test Breyer seeks. The government clearly compels pregnancy centers which oppose abortion on religious or moral grounds to violate their convictions via mandatory abortion advertisements. Physicians, however, likely do not oppose adoption for religious or moral reasons; thus, the state cannot possibly infringe on their “freedom of thought or belief” by compelling them to publicize information they already endorse.
Alliance Defending Freedom lawyer Michael Farris recognizes that freedom of speech and conscience constitute the proper basis for the Court’s decision. “No one should be forced by the government to express a message that violates their convictions, especially on deeply divisive subjects such as abortion,” Farris stated. “In this case the government used its power to force pro-life pregnancy centers to provide free advertising for abortion. The Supreme Court said that the government can’t do that, and that it must respect pro-life beliefs.”
Farris’ organization represented the pregnancy centers in the case. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals had previously ruled against the clinics in a unanimous verdict which upheld the entirety of California’s law. Thus, the Supreme Court’s decision represents a heartening turn of events both for pregnancy clinics in California and the national pro-life cause.