A California law that requires Christian-based facilities that steer pregnant women away from abortion to post notices about the availability of state-subsidized abortions ran into trouble at the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday, with justices on the right and left indicating it may violate free speech rights.
Various justices voiced concern that the Democratic-backed 2015 law was crafted to take aim at a specific viewpoint — opposition to abortion — held by these non-profit facilities called crisis pregnancy centers.
Conservative justices sharply questioned the lawyer representing California, and even two liberal justices expressed unease with parts of the law during an hour-long argument in an appeal by these facilities of a lower court ruling upholding the statute. The court has a 5-4 conservative majority.
The crisis pregnancy centers accuse California of compelling them to advertise for abortion even though it violates their beliefs, running afoul of the guarantee of freedom of speech under the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment.
Conservative Justice Samuel Alito said that even if the law looks neutral on its face, it contains so many exemptions that it appears to target only those holding anti-abortion views.
“Do you think it’s possible to infer intentional discrimination?” Alito asked Joshua Klein, California’s deputy solicitor general.
Liberal Justice Elena Kagan pressed Klein on the same concerns, wondering whether the law was applied only to “speakers whose speech we don’t much like.” Klein said the law was applied to be useful to pregnant women.
California’s Reproductive FACT Act, passed by a Democratic-led legislature and signed by Democratic Governor Jerry Brown, requires centers licensed as family planning facilities to post or distribute notices that the state has programs offering free or low-cost birth control and abortion services. It also requires unlicensed facilities that may have no medical provider on staff to disclose that fact.
Conservative Justice Anthony Kennedy suggested that if the statute required unlicensed centers to add the disclosure about having no medical provider to a billboard that simply stated “Choose Life” – a slogan for people who oppose abortion – it would violate the Constitution.
Liberal Justice Sonia Sotomayor agreed that such an advertising requirement would be wrong.
Some of the questions from liberal justices suggested they had one eye on future cases in which conservative states pass laws imposing restrictions on abortion clinics.
The California challengers are the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates, an umbrella group for crisis pregnancy centers, and two such facilities in San Diego County.
Full story at KFGO.com.