Supreme Court Upholds Free Speech of Pro-Life Ministries

“Freedom of speech secures freedom of thought and belief. This law imperils those liberties.” So concluded retiring Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy as he blasted California legislators for a state law targeting pro-life pregnancy care centers that was the subject of the powerful National Institute of Family and Life Advocates v. Becerra Supreme Court decision this week. The majority ruling, written by Justice Clarence Thomas, declared that California’s Reproductive FACT Act requiring the centers to post notices about state abortion offerings “unduly burdens protected speech.”

Dr. Jerry A. Johnson, president and CEO of National Religious Broadcasters, said the high court was right in its ruling against this “insidious” law. He declared, “California tried to coerce pro-life pregnancy clinics into giving free advertising to Planned Parenthood and others in the abortion industry. The government has no right to compel American citizens to violate their beliefs by actively promoting the state’s preferred moral position, especially on such an issue of literal life and death.”

Johnson further stated his hope that California’s leaders will stop “the apparent race to appease the radical Left with more and more intolerance.” He also commended NRB member Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), which argued the case before the Supreme Court on behalf of NIFLA. After presenting the oral argument for the case in March, ADF president Michael Farris emphasized the importance of this case for all Americans. He asked, “Even if you are not pro-life, do you want the government setting up its own advertising mandates for nonprofit organizations and then punishing any who disagree?”

Justice Stephen Breyer, who was joined in his dissent by Justices Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Kagan, saw the case very differently. He said that he, too, values the First Amendment, but that the majority had made a leap that does “First Amendment goals a disservice through dilution.” In particular, he suggested that California’s abortion promotion law is no more burdensome than abortion informed consent rules related to adoption that had previously been upheld by the court. Justice Thomas addressed that line of argument in his ruling and highlighted, “Tellingly, many facilities that provide the exact same services as covered facilities—such as general practice clinics, see §123471(a)—are not required to provide the licensed notice.”

Nevertheless, Breyer did not see a problem great enough to strike down the law. “The Act does not, on its face, distinguish between facilities that favor pro-life and those that favor pro-choice points of view,” he wrote. “Nor is there any convincing evidence before us or in the courts below that discrimination was the purpose or the effect of the statute.”

Reflecting on the nature of this 5-4 ruling, NRB’s Johnson stated, “This case is a reminder that we must be vigilant to ensure we are led by Constitution-honoring officials in all branches of federal, state, and local government.”

By Aaron Mercer, Vice President of Government Relations

Published: June 29, 2018

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