The constitutional rights of pregnancy resource centers and pro-life advocates in California were dealt a serious blow last week by yet another federal court.
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court’s decision refusing to enjoin California’s recently enacted FACT Act, a law that compels pro-life crisis pregnancy centers and pregnancy resource centers to advertise and refer for abortions. We previously reported on the arguments of this case here.
Our clients, LivingWell Medical Clinic, Pregnancy Care Center North Coast, and Confidence Pregnancy Center, are nonprofit pregnancy resource centers that exist to provide women with information about alternatives to abortion. All services are provided free of charge. Each of our clients believes that all human life is sacred and that abortion is a bad option for women. In contrast to Planned Parenthood, NARAL, and their allies in the California state government who dutifully enacted a law sponsored by NARAL, our clients choose to tell women all the facts about abortion. And in discussing abortion, our clients choose to control the when and how they talk about abortion in the context of each client visit. A long line of Supreme Court and other precedents says that the First Amendment’s Free Speech Clause protects their right to do just that.
But not so according to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. Setting itself apart from both the Second and Fourth Circuits, the Court has held that, notwithstanding the First Amendment, California authorities do have the right to force our clients and others like them to put up signs or hand out notices visible to all clients the minute they walk in the door that not only tell them that the State will pay for them to have an abortion, but also give them a phone number to call to make the arrangements. Talk about stacking the deck!
In support of its erroneous and unconstitutional ruling, the Court relies on the idea that, because our clients’ clinics are licensed by the State, anything and everything that’s said by anybody within the four walls of the clinic about the services they provide can be regulated, shaped and controlled by the government, including the when and how our clients present something as controversial as abortion. And, if they don’t comply, these nonprofit charities, which face a daily struggle to pay the light bills and buy the supplies they hand out for free, can be fined into submission.
Fortunately, the case is far from over. We are already working on a Petition to have the case reheard by the full Ninth Circuit. That Petition will be filed by the end of this month. And if we don’t succeed there, we intend to ask the Supreme Court of the United States to take up the matter and vindicate our clients’ First Amendment rights.
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