By Joy Allmond
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday morning to protect the free speech of pro-life pregnancy resource center workers in California.
The 5-4 decision written by Justice Clarence Thomas in National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA) v. Becerra strikes a California law requiring pregnancy centers to display information about state-funded, low-cost, or free abortion providers and contraception—a message that conflicts with their pro-life mission and beliefs.
The Supreme Court says the 2015 law—the Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care and Transparency (FACT) Act—is a violation of free speech. This law directs pregnancy centers to prominently post information about “public programs that provide immediate free or low-cost access to comprehensive family planning services, prenatal care and abortion for eligible women.”
NIFLA is a network of 1,400 pro-life pregnancy resource centers across the country. According to the NIFLA website, around 150 of these affiliates are located in California and would have been impacted by this law.
NIFLA filed a lawsuit in 2016 with the 9th Circuit Court, saying the Reproductive FACT Act violated their First Amendment rights to free speech and free exercise of religion. But the lower court rejected both arguments.
The Supreme Court agreed to hear the case in November 2017, and oral arguments began in March.
“The right of free speech protected in the First Amendment not only includes the right to speak, but also the right to not be compelled by government to speak a message with which one disagrees and which violates one’s conscience,” said Thomas Glessner, NIFLA president and founder after the decision was handed down.
“The court correctly found that the California law clearly offends this principle. We are very pleased with the court’s decision and for what it means for the many pro-life centers that serve and empower women in California and throughout the country.”
Alliance Defending Freedom President, CEO, and General Counsel Michael Farris, who argued on behalf of NIFLA before the Supreme Court in March, says this is a good constitutional decision as well as a sound moral 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,” he said. “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.”
Christian pro-life advocates, like Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, applaud the decision.
“The Court affirmed the freedom of speech, the freedom of expression, that the state can’t force pro-life organizations to participate in abortion. It’s good for all Americans, wherever we stand on a variety of issues,” Moore said. “This decision ought to remind us of the crucial work of pregnancy resource centers all around the country, advocating for unborn children and also their mothers.”
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JOY ALLMOND (@joyallmond) is managing editor of Facts & Trends.