California’s Attack on Pregnancy Support Centers Arrives at the U.S. Supreme Court

Rebekah Millard

Life Legal has filed a friend of the court (“amicus”) brief with the United States Supreme Court, on behalf of Priests for Life and the Justice Foundation’s Operation Outcry, in a case that represents the latest battle in abortion industry’s war on freedom of speech. Priests for Life supports the work of pregnancy centers across the nation and Operation Outcry has collected over 5,000 legally admissible testimonies from women who have been hurt by abortion.

In 2015, California legislators passed the so-called “Reproductive FACT” Act, which forces pro-life pregnancy support centers to post notices of the availability of “free” abortion (for medical clinics), and mandates a twenty-nine-word “notice” of non-licensure for non-medical pregnancy support centers.

The law is a direct result of lobbying by pro-abortion groups such as Planned Parenthood and the National Abortion Federation. Unsatisfied with nearly unlimited taxpayer-funded abortion in their state, the California Legislature was persuaded to take aim at pregnancy support centers that offer pregnancy tests, peer counseling, and a myriad of free services and tangible resources to women facing unplanned pregnancies.

The first case of its kind to reach the Supreme Court, NIFLA v. Becerra addresses whether a government, such as the State of California, can force pro-life organizations to disseminate the State’s pro-abortion messaging. This case is on the cutting edge of the fight to save the unborn from death and women from the lifetime of regret that follows abortion.

Life Legal’s brief gives voice to women who have chosen abortion and now deeply regret their decision. Post-abortive women can experience relentless grief, remorse, and depression, in addition to an increased risk of certain types of cancer. Even the Supreme Court has recognized that “whether to have an abortion requires a difficult and painful moral decision,” and is “fraught with emotional consequences” including “severe depression and loss of esteem.” Gonzalez v. Carhart, 550 U.S. 124 (2007).

Life Legal argues that the “FACT” Act unconstitutionally infringes on the First Amendment rights of pregnancy resource centers. Our brief focuses on Act’s provisions that apply to California’s many non-medical centers—those that provide practical support such as pregnancy tests, peer counseling, social support, maternity and baby clothes, diapers, and education. Under the Act, non-medical centers are required to post large disclaimers that they are “not licensed as a medical facility by the State of California and [have] no licensed medical provider who provides or directly supervises the provision of services.”

This draconian disclosure mandate makes it virtually impossible for non-medical centers to advertise their services. For example, a center that wanted to run an advertisement reading, “Pregnant? Let’s Talk. Call 1-800-555-1212” would have to also include the twenty-nine-word “disclosure,” in the same or larger font size. Centers could not post a notice of their services anywhere—including billboards, Google, Facebook, Twitter, banner ads, and even their own websites—unless they also include the disclosure in each of their county’s “threshold languages.” This means centers in Los Angeles would have to post the notice in thirteen different languages, including Cantonese, Mandarin, Farsi, Tagalog, Cambodian and Arabic, in addition to English and Spanish

The pregnancy center’s core message would be drowned out by the sheer volume of text required by the Act. Moreover, as anyone who has ever run an advertisement knows, the additional mandated text would make any form of advertising prohibitively expensive.

The Act’s mandate also creates and perpetuates a stigma on non-medical centers. These centers do not provide any medical services that would require licensure in the first place. In fact, there is no license they could obtain that would cover the type of services they provide.

No other provider of goods and services is subject to a mandate of this kind. No other provider has to post—in 13 languages no less—what it is not.

Imagine churches having to post large signs stating that they have no licensed psychotherapists. Or, imagine food banks having to state in multiple languages on their websites and social media platforms that they are not licensed to provide gastroenterological procedures.

California already has regulations to address the unlawful practice of medicine without a license. Non-medical pregnancy centers that offer over-the-counter, self-administered pregnancy tests, information about pregnancy options, maternity clothes, and diapers do not provide any services that could be construed as medical.

Of course, the pro-abortion forces behind this law intentionally made it as difficult as possible for centers to inform abortion-minded women about their services. The sole objective of these legislators and lobbyists is to force women into Planned Parenthood and other facilities that only offer one choice for women facing unplanned pregnancy: abortion. The abortion cartel has to undermine, disparage, and denigrate the work of pro-life pregnancy support centers because these centers represent a growing threat to their bottom line. Never mind that these centers provide millions of dollars in goods and services annually. Never mind that they represent the very best of human nature—the sacrificial outpouring of support for those in need and the joining together to affirm life. Because these values threaten to take clients—i.e., dollars—away from the abortion mills, the centers must be silenced.

Life Legal views this case and our amicus brief as an opportunity to affirm the right to communicate the message that life in the womb is worth protecting and that abortion is harmful to women.

Life Legal honors those who sacrifice their time, talent, and finances to make sure that pregnancy support centers are available for women. We stand beside every pregnancy center, medical and non-medical, that offers support to the woman who might not otherwise know that she indeed has choices and will have support if she chooses life for her child.