Supreme Court takes case on free speech rights of antiabortion counseling centers


The Supreme Court on Monday said it would decide whether it violates free speech guarantees for California to require “crisis pregnancy centers,” which counsel against abortion, to tell patients that the state offers contraception services and abortion assistance.

It is one of three cases raising First Amendment concerns that the court announced it will hear after the first of the year. The others involve the arrest of a man who spoke out against “corruption” at a Florida city council meeting, and a Minnesota law that bars wearing political messages at polling places.

The California case promises to be a high-profile conflict that raises important free speech issues about when a state’s intent to regulate the medical profession violates constitutional protections.

“Crisis pregnancy centers” provide services for pregnant women and try to convince them not to end their pregnancies. But some state legislatures, including California’s, have charged that they use deceptive advertising and confuse and even intimidate women who believe they are going to receive more neutral abortion counseling.

California’s Reproductive FACT Act requires the center to disclose whether they have medical personnel on staff and also to disclose that the state offers subsidized contraceptives and abortion.

A panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit upheld the law, saying the state could regulate professional speech and had a valid interest in safeguarding public health. The required sign did not encourage abortion, the judges said, but merely informed patients of available state services.

But the centers said they are targeted because their message is unpopular with the state’s leaders.

“The state, rather than using countless alternative ways to communicate its message, including its own powerful voice, instead compels only licensed facilities that help women consider alternatives to abortion to express the government’s message regarding how to obtain abortions paid for by the state,” says the petition filed by the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates.

The case is NIFLA v. Becerra. The others are Lozman v. City of Riviera Beach and Minnesota Voters Alliance v. Mansky.

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