Defending the Free Speech Rights of Pregnancy Centers

pregnancy centers

By Worth Loving

Pregnancy can be one of the most vulnerable times in a woman’s life, especially when the pregnancy is unexpected. It’s extremely important that a woman have a strong support group during such a time. For many women facing unplanned pregnancies, pregnancy resource centers provide the support needed for the woman to carry her baby to term and equip her to raise the child in a loving home.

There are two types of crisis pregnancy centers, licensed and unlicensed. Unlicensed pregnancy centers are authorized to provide any type of non-medical support including pregnancy kits, education, support groups, clothing, and so on. Licensed pregnancy centers provide all these services as well but are also authorized to provide limited medical services. Unlike Planned Parenthood, pregnancy resource centers charge nothing for their services. Oftentimes, pregnancy centers are strategically located in poor communities where medical care is hard to find. No one seeking their services is turned away.

Now, the very mission of these pregnancy centers is under attack in California through a law known as the California FACT Act. Passed in 2015, the law requires pregnancy centers to promote a message directly contrary to their mission. For licensed facilities, the law requires a state-approved message regarding abortion referrals to be posted in the pregnancy centers. Interestingly, the law doesn’t require licensed pregnancy centers to promote wellness and nutrition programs for women, infants, and children or anything of the sort. For non-licensed facilities, the law requires that the pregnancy center post a message explaining that they are not a licensed medical facility and therefore cannot provide any related services, something these pregnancy centers have never claimed to do.

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Shortly after the passage of the California FACT Act, the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA) with the help of Alliance Defending Freedom filed a lawsuit against California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, arguing that the law violated the free speech rights of pregnancy centers. After working its way through the lower courts, the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case of NIFLA v. Becerra in November 2017. Oral arguments were heard on March 20, and a decision is expected to be announced at the end of the Court’s term next month.

It certainly appears that precedent is on the side of pregnancy centers. Several cases have been decided in favor of private individuals and institutions who were being compelled to promote or participate in a message or action contrary to their beliefs or mission. It also appears that the current justices have serious reservations about the constitutionality of the California FACT Act. During oral arguments for NIFLA v. Becerra, several of the more liberal justices voiced concerns that the law was not only burdensome but specifically targeted pregnancy centers, something Justice Elena Kagan called a “serious issue.”

Defendants in the case, including the state of California, argue that pregnancy centers are willfully deceiving women into believing that abortion is not an option and that they must disclose abortion services. In the end, though, Attorney General Becerra’s legal team conceded that no charges have ever been filed against a single pregnancy center in the state of California; and they have yet to bring forward a woman who has been harmed by a pregnancy center.

Pregnancy centers have never claimed to be full service. Their goal is to provide services to a mother in need so that her baby may develop fully and that she may love and nurture the child. What’s at stake in this case is the First Amendment right of pregnancy centers to refuse to promote a message directly contrary to their mission. Last week, Congressman Andy Harris, a medical doctor from Maryland, spoke on the importance of this case at FRC. As he said, “The First Amendment gives you the right to say things. It also gives you the right not to say things, and that’s what this case is about.” To find out more about this critical case and how you can support pregnancy centers in your area, watch Rep. Harris’ full lecture below.

First published at FRC Action

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Barb Wire.

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