Bench Memos

Law & the Courts

Supreme Court to Decide if FACT Act Hacks Away at First Amendment

Should pro-life pregnancy-care centers be compelled to provide free advertising for abortion providers like Planned Parenthood? On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to consider this very question, which the case National Institute of Family and Life Advocates v. Becerra presents.

California lawmakers made their position on abortion abundantly clear when they passed a law called the “Reproductive FACT Act.” The law, which took effect in January 2016, targets pro-life pregnancy-care centers. Let’s be clear, no speculation or inference regarding the law’s intent is necessary; the state admitted targeting centers that “discourage” abortion. And they do so brazenly.

The law forces pregnancy-care centers to shill for the abortion industry by displaying an advertisement that advises women on how they can obtain an abortion from the state — complete with a phone number. Callers are referred to abortion giant Planned Parenthood and other abortion facilities. This bears repeating: Under California law, private pro-life pregnancy-care centers are required to put signs on their walls promoting free or low-cost abortion and contraception services, and providing contact information for those abortion providers.

Forced to undermine their essential purpose

These pro-life centers, such as Pregnancy Care Clinic and other members of the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates, were founded to provide assistance to women facing unplanned pregnancies. Specifically, they offer pro-life information and resources, as well as practical medical or non-medical support that will support a woman’s choice to give birth. Accordingly, forcing these centers to promote abortion goes far beyond demanding that a business advertise for its competitors (though that alone would be absurd). This law requires the centers to promote services that are anathema to their core reason for existing.

Any analogies will sound absurd, but only because the reality defies reason. Consider a vegan restaurant forced to post fliers for Outback Steakhouse, or an Alcoholics Anonymous group required to promote a nearby bar’s happy hour. Should PETA be made to share information on how to obtain free or low-cost hunting licenses? Should the American Lung Association be compelled to advertise for cigarette manufacturers?

The obvious answer to these questions affirms the simple truth about this case: Pro-life pregnancy-care centers should not be forced to contradict their core message.

Free to speak, and free not to speak

The Supreme Court — and the First Amendment — have not been silent on the issue. In 1986, the Supreme Court held that a utility company couldn’t be forced to include in its billing envelope a message supplied by a public-interest group. Even though the message could have been added without increasing costs to the utility company, the court correctly noted that the right to free speech includes “the choice of what not to say.” For that reason, the company could not be required to spread a message with which it disagreed.

A more recent example comes from 2013, where the Supreme Court struck down a law that required groups receiving U.S. government funds for international HIV and AIDS work to adopt a policy explicitly opposing prostitution. In the opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts referred to the “basic First Amendment principle that freedom of speech prohibits the government from telling people what they must say,” adding that “[t]he government may not . . . compel the endorsement of ideas that it approves.”

The abortion business doesn’t need indentured spokespersons

Planned Parenthood receives more than $500 million each year in federal funding. The group boasts of more than $1.8 billion in total assets and, in fiscal year 2016, spent more than $25 million in branding and “advocacy capacity” alone. That same year, they performed 328,348 abortions. Suffice it to say, the business of abortion is set up to thrive (monetarily speaking).

In contrast, pregnancy-care centers are generally small nonprofits with limited funding and modest budgets. They offer their services free of charge (no abortion revenue to boost the budget) and seek only to come alongside expectant mothers and unborn children, helping both to thrive.

Abortion has already silenced enough voices. The abortion industry shouldn’t be allowed to force those that remain to promote its agenda.

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