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In Free Speech Case, Supreme Court Sides With Religious Anti-Abortion Centers In California

Now, anti-abortion pregnancy centers in California won’t have to disclose abortion and contraceptive options — or if they’re unlicensed.

By Samira Sadeque

The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday ruled that emergency anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centers in California are allowed to not disclose low-cost abortion and contraceptive options to patients.

The 5-4 ruling also allows unlicensed pregnancy centers to offer service without disclosing that they are unlicensed.

The California Reproductive Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care, and Transparency Act (FACT Act) might be in violation of the Constitution, the ruling further finds, according to the Associated Press.

The law, enacted in 2016, required clinics serving pregnant people to give certain notices, such as whether or not they are licensed by the state, and the availability of low-cost prenatal, abortion, and contraceptive services.

The purpose of the FACT Act is to ensure that a patient is aware of their rights and informed about available medical services, and that they know whether or not they’re being treated by a licensed provider.

“Indeed, California points to nothing suggesting that pregnant women do not already know that the covered facilities are staffed by unlicensed medical professionals,” reads Tuesday’s ruling.

The law would also be a burden on advertising because even a short message on a billboard would have to be accompanied by long disclaimers, the opinion reads using the example of a hypothetical “Choose Life” billboard.

“In this way, the unlicensed notice drowns out the facility’s own message,” it reads, noting that it would defeat the purpose of the original message.  

The petitioners, an organization of centers, and two specific crisis pregnancy centers — one unlicensed — filed a lawsuit claiming this infringed upon their freedom of speech protected by the First Amendment because they were being forced to share information that they did not agree with.

The FACT Act required pro-life pregnancy centers to share information about available abortion services which in turn would compel “individuals to contradict their most deeply held beliefs, beliefs grounded in basic philosophical, ethical, or religious precepts, or all of these,” Justice Kennedy wrote, in agreement with the ruling.

Justice Breyer, who was supported by Justice Ginsburg, Justice Sotomayor, and Justice Kagan in dissenting, cited a precedence of state laws that required healthcare providers to tell women seeking adoption about services available.

“Using the First Amendment to strike down economic and social laws that legislatures long would have thought themselves free to enact will, for the American public, obscure, not clarify, the true value of protecting freedom of speech,” wrote Justice Breyer.

[Photo: U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justices Elena Kagan and Stephen Breyer and Chief Justice John Roberts at the U.S. House of Representatives in January 2018 in Washington, DC. By Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images]