Today, the ACLJ filed a petition with the U.S. Supreme Court asking it to intervene in a critically important First Amendment free speech case on behalf of three California crisis pregnancy centers (“CPCs”).
In October of 2015, California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law the so-called “Reproductive FACT Act.” This pro-abortion law requires licensed pregnancy centers, including CPCs, to tell every one of their clients, no matter the reason for their visit, that they might be able to obtain a free or low-cost abortion, paid for by the state. Pro-life pregnancy resource centers are not only forced to convey this government-imposed message -- which amounts to free advertising for abortion providers -- it requires them to provide their clients with a telephone number where they can learn more about state-subsidized abortion services. Pro-life centers that fail to say exactly what the government wants them to say, in the manner the government wants them to say it, are threatened with civil suits and financial penalties.
Obviously, the law is an outright attack on the First Amendment right to free speech. The Supreme Court has held time and time again that just as the government cannot prohibit speech, it cannot compel speech either. Based on this bedrock constitutional truth, students cannot be coerced into saying the Pledge of Allegiance if they do not wish to; citizens cannot be required to carry a state message on their license plate if they object to that message; newspapers cannot be forced to publish editorial replies.
As the Supreme Court reaffirmed just a few years ago, it is “a basic First Amendment principle that freedom of speech prohibits the government from telling people what they must say.”
This California law, however, is not just an attack on a fundamental liberty protected by the Bill of Rights. It is also an outrageous attack on pro-life pregnancy resource centers, which provide important medical, material, emotional support to women in need. California should be supporting the work of these pro-life centers, not coercing them to advertise free abortions, contrary to their religious mission and identity.
As we previously explained, we filed a lawsuit against the California Attorney General and local officials charged with enforcing the law on behalf of three pro-life pregnancy centers: LivingWell Medical Clinic, Pregnancy Care Center of the North Coast, and the Confidence Pregnancy Center. Our clients serve hundreds of women and their families every year completely free of charge, and they do so with only one principle in mind: the health and well-being of women. They are religiously opposed to abortion and do not ever refer their clients for abortions.
In October of last year, in a misguided and erroneous decision, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals preliminarily upheld California’s “FACT Act.” Today, we filed a petition with the U.S. Supreme Court, asking it to intervene in this crucial case. The petition argues that the Ninth Circuit’s decision is not only at odds with decisions of other federal courts of appeal, including a victory we obtained on behalf of a New York City pro-life pregnancy center, but conflicts with decisions of the Supreme Court itself. We have asked the Court “to resolve the circuit split and repudiate the Ninth Circuit’s dramatic curtailment of First Amendment freedoms.”
We are confident that the Supreme Court will take up this case, correct the errors of the Ninth Circuit, and defend pro-life free speech rights for pro-life pregnancy centers against this pro-abortion law. The right not to be coerced into speaking a message contrary to one’s conscience is directly at stake.
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