The Supreme Court has agreed to hear an anti-abortion group’s argument that a California law requiring crisis pregnancy centers to explain a woman’s contraception and abortion options is a violation of free speech.
As it stands, California requires the centers—faith-based organizations that often masquerade as medical facilities—to post notices that free or low-cost abortion and contraception are available through public programs, as well as signage clarifying that they are not state-licensed medical facilities. But challengers say the disclosure law violates the 1st Amendment on the basis that such a message conflicts with their overall goal of persuading women to give birth.
The suit has been brought by the Arizona-based Alliance Defending Freedom—the same organization that sued on behalf of the Colorado baker who refused to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple. As Michael Farris, ADF’s president, told the Los Angeles Times, the main issue is whether “California can put its thumb on one side” of the scale and require a faith-based center “to promote a pro-abortion message.”
It seems clear, though, that the law is intended to prevent anti-abortion groups from tipping the scale themselves. The disclosure requirement passed in California two years ago after lawmakers decided that the state’s 200 CPCs had a habit of using “intentionally deceptive advertising and counseling practices that often confuse, misinform and even intimidate women” about their reproductive options. Similar issues abound at the roughly 4,000 CPCs located around the country, which often flout laws designed to reign them in. (For comparison, the U.S. is now home to only around 800 abortion providers.)
According to the New York Times, a three-panel judge upheld both parts of the law in California last year, writing at the time that:
“California has a substantial interest in the health of its citizens, including ensuring that its citizens have access to and adequate information about constitutionally protected medical services like abortion,” Judge Dorothy W. Nelson wrote for the panel in upholding the requirement that licensed clinics post a notice about abortion.
“The notice informs the reader only of the existence of publicly funded family-planning services,” Judge Nelson wrote. “It does not contain any more speech than necessary, nor does it encourage, suggest or imply that women should use those state-funded services.”
CPCs tend to offer ultrasounds, pregnancy tests and free diapers—all of which are perfectly fine, even noble services. Their machinations, however, skew sinister when they intentionally mislead women into thinking that they’re medical providers, or worse, that they provide abortions themselves.
State Attorney General Xavier Becerra has vowed to defend the law and keep CPCs in their place.
“Information is power, and all women should have access to the information they need when making personal health-care decisions,” he said in a statement.