Supreme Court Justices Cast Doubt on California Abortion-Disclosure Rules

Supreme Court Justices Cast Doubt on California Abortion-Disclosure Rules

The California case centers on free speech and is brought by anti-abortion "crisis pregnancy centers" that argue that a 2015 state law requiring them to tell women about free and low-priced abortion options violates their First Amendment rights.

More than 700,000 women in California become pregnant each year, and one-half of these pregnancies are unintended, according to data provided in the Reproductive FACT Act. The court has a 5-4 conservative majority.

The city has its own 2011 law aimed at crisis pregnancy centers that was also upheld by the 9th Circuit in June.

"Do you think it's possible to infer intentional discrimination?" Noting that the disclosure provision applies to advertising, Kennedy said it would require a clinic that has paid for a billboard that simply said "Choose Life" to also include the notification. The case comes after California passed the Reproductive Fact Act in 2015, which mandates that licensed clinics providing ultrasounds, pregnancy tests and other services must also provide information about abortion.

State officials in California claim pregnancy centers run by volunteers are commercial entities, and that it's therefore all right to regulate them by forcing them to fork over information about the competition - in this case, abortion clinics.

The Supreme Court legalized abortion in 1973, and the wider issue of abortion rights is not at issue in the case. He could have argued that abortion clinics - or, for that matter, regular medical facilities - do not have crisis pregnancy centers' record of seeking to mislead patients, and therefore California was justified in enacting a narrowly tailored statute meant to combat these deceptive practices where they exist.

The law imposes separate requirements on centers that aren't licensed as medical facilities but still offer pregnancy testing or ultrasound imaging.

A unanimous three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in San Francisco, upheld both parts of the law.

Joshua Klein, a deputy solicitor general in state Attorney General Xavier Becerra's office, replied that the court has allowed states to require health care professionals to provide information to patients - for example, the "informed consent" laws that have sometimes included warnings about the dire consequences of abortion. Justices Anthony Kennedy, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor referred to that portion as burdensome.

The brief represents Massachusetts Citizens for Life, the leading pro-life group in Massachusetts; the Pro-Life Legal Defense Fund, another Massachusetts not-for-profit which offers pro bono legal services for the protection of human life; and Eleanor McCullen, the local pro-life counselor who was the lead plaintiff in McCullen v. Coakley, a 2014 case where the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously struck down a Massachusetts law that banned pro-life counseling within a buffer zone around abortion clinics.

Justice Stephen Breyer suggested that abortion-rights states should have the same ability to require disclosure by clinics that oppose the procedure.

"If it has been gerrymandered, that's a serious issue", Kagan said.

A government that tells you what you can't say is risky, but a government that tells you what you must say - under threat of severe punishment - is alarming.

"In law, what's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander", Breyer said. But Farris said it would be unconstitutional to force a Planned Parenthood facility that counseled about abortion, but did not perform abortions, to make anti-abortion advertisements.

"We should not politicize the practice of medicine in that way", Farris said. "If the government can successfully force pro-life pregnancy centers to promote abortion, which organizations will be targeted next?" And if you want to help pregnant women with anything other than the directions to the nearest abortion clinic, Illinois' legislature says Chicago - or Peoria or Springfield - is not your kind of town.

California told the justices in legal papers that some centers use incomplete or false medical advice to try to prevent women from having an abortion.

Women with unplanned pregnancies who attend the facilities are encouraged to parent or offer up their babies for adoption, rather than end their pregnancy. The facilities deny using deceptive tactics. Along with other Missouri abortion rights activists, Estes made the trek to the nation's capital yesterday; today she's scheduled to speak at a rally on the steps of the Supreme Court.

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