The Supreme Court of the U.S. issued a monumental decision preserving the fundamental constitutional liberty of free speech for all Americans. The decision in NIFLA v. Becerra is a stark rebuke to the state of California’s attempt to restrict free speech rights. The Court’s decision protects pro-life pregnancy centers and blocks attempts by the government to force citizens to repeat messages with which they fundamentally disagree.
The National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA), a national network of 1,450 pro-life centers, filed suit against this law on behalf of its 150 California members. While our motion for a preliminary injunction was rejected by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, the Supreme Court has correctly ruled in favor of NIFLA and declared that the law likely violates the free speech rights of pro-life pregnancy centers.
The right of free speech protected in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution not only includes the right to speak, but also the right to not be compelled by government to repeat a message with which one disagrees and which violates one’s conscience. The Court correctly found that the California law clearly offends this principle.
California’s AB 775 mandated that pro-life pregnancy centers advertise for state-funded abortion services by posting a large sign in their waiting area. The sign must contain a phone number for center patients to get an abortion. Non-compliance with the law would bring serious fines and penalties that would force most of these pro-life centers to close.
There are over 150 pro-life pregnancy centers in California (and nearly 3,000 nationwide) providing necessary resources to mothers who are contemplating abortion. Such services empower these mothers to choose life and continue their pregnancies.
Medical services offered by the centers that are licensed medical clinics include ultrasound confirmation of pregnancy, pregnancy diagnosis and STI testing and treatment. Other assistance offered by both medical and non-medical centers include baby clothing, diapers, prenatal vitamins, housing, referrals for medical and legal help, adoptions and other critical services at no cost to pregnant mothers and no cost to the taxpayer.
One service that these life-affirming ministries do not provide, however, is abortion. They are foundationally pro-life and to refer for abortions violates their fundamental values.
First Amendment rights
Perhaps most problematic, this law only applies to pro-life centers that do not provide abortion or abortion referrals. All other agencies that serve the needs of pregnant mothers are largely exempt. And abortion centers are not forced to refer pregnant women for free ultrasounds or adoptions at pro-life centers.
May the government pass a law mandating that Alcoholics Anonymous be required to post a sign advising its participants on where the local liquor store is? May the American Cancer Society be forced by law to promote the sale of cigarettes? Because the Court stopped enforcement of the California law, relief from burdensome speech mandates will extend to all sorts of situations and ensure greater protection for all.
The First Amendment protects five fundamental freedoms that uniquely define the American experience in ordered liberty — freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly and the freedom to petition one’s representatives for a redress of grievances.
The heart and soul of this amendment are the first two liberties — freedom of religion and freedom of speech. The issues in NIFLA v. Becerra clearly impact the future of these two cherished liberties. The decision of the Supreme Court upholds these liberties as fundamental constitutional rights that define the unique experience in freedom embodied in the American Republic.
NIFLA commends the Court’s decision to protect the First Amendment. NIFLA v. Becerra stands against those who would use the power of government to suppress messages they do not like.
This ruling is a major victory for the constitutional liberty of all Americans.