The U.S. Supreme Court has granted review in National Institute of Family and Life Advocates v. Becerra. The case involves a challenge to a California law forcing pro-life pregnancy help centers to post information about public programs that provide free or low-cost access to abortion.
This lawsuit is very important. Pregnancy help centers play a vital, life-changing role in communities throughout the nation. They provide direct assistance to women in incredibly challenging and vulnerable life situations. And they do so through the loving, dedicated work and sacrifice of thousands of caring, committed staff, volunteers, and local donors.
For good reason pregnancy help centers have been praised as “one of the most important grassroots movements in American history.”
At the same time, pro-life pregnancy help centers continue to find themselves under political attack from abortion supporters and their allies in state and local governments.
In this case the U.S. Supreme Court will consider “[w]hether the disclosures required by the California Reproductive FACT Act violate the protections set forth in the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment.”
According to the pro-life organizations challenging the law (the “petitioners”), “California enacted the Reproductive FACT Act (‘the Act’) with the stated purpose of targeting prolife ‘crisis pregnancy centers’ based on their viewpoint that ‘discourage[s]’ abortion.”
The petitioners explain that “[t]he Act forces licensed pro-life medical centers to post notices informing women how to contact the State at a particular phone number for information on how to obtain state-funded abortions, directly contradicting the centers’ pro-life message. Those calling the provided number,” the petitioners explain, “will be referred to Medi-Cal and Family Planning, Access, Care, and Treatment Program (‘PACT’) providers, including private abortion providers such as Planned Parenthood.”
The petitioners further explain that “[t]he Act also forces non-medical, unlicensed pro-life organizations to give extensive disclaimers that they are not a licensed medical facility in large font and in as many as 13 languages to clients on site as well as in their ads, both print and digital, including on their own Internet websites.” The petitioners argue that “[t]his compelled speech requirement drowns out the centers’ pro-life messages and discourages them from speaking through advertisements because California’s voluminous required statements make ads cost prohibitive.”
The Charlotte Lozier Institute submitted a brief urging the Court to grant review in this case. The Lozier brief provides an extensive overview of the important social contributions PHCs make.
Lozier’s brief draws heavily on research prepared by the Family Research Council that estimates the accomplishments of nearly 2,000 pregnancy help centers using data collected by centers affiliated with three national pregnancy help center networks, Care Net, Heartbeat International, and the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA).
Lozier sets out findings on pregnancy help center contributions, as reported in FRC’s study, including:
- “In 2010, [pregnancy help centers] served over 2.3 million people with pregnancy assistance, abstinence counseling and education, community outreach programs and referrals, and public health linkages.”
- “A conservative estimate of community cost savings for these services during 2010 is over $100 million.”
- “In addition to specific cost savings, pregnancy centers drew on the help of 71,000 volunteers who performed an estimated 5,705,000 uncompensated hours of work in 2010.”
In its brief, Lozier argues that forcing pro-life volunteers and help centers to refer for abortion undermines their mission and the values that inspire them to serve mothers and children.
The petitioners in this case were denied relief by the federal trial court and intermediate court of appeals. Supreme Court review provides an opportunity to reverse these rulings and protect pregnancy help centers from California’s burden on their constitutional rights and pro-life mission.
Thomas M. Messner, J.D. is a Senior Fellow in Legal Policy at the Charlotte Lozier Institute.