The United States Supreme Court takes up today a case with implications concerning abortion and free speech. The question is whether or not pregnancy care centers sponsored by faith groups and others opposed to abortion, can be compelled to provide information about abortion. As such the case is not simply about abortion, but also about the role of the first amendment and free speech.
At issue is a California law, the Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care and Transparency Act, commonly known as FACT. The law states that facilities that are not licensed must indicate they are not. But also, all must post this notice as well: “California has public programs that provide immediate free or low-cost access to comprehensive family planning services (including all FDA-approved methods of contraception), prenatal care, and abortion for eligible women. To determine whether you qualify, contact the county social services office at [insert the telephone number].” It is this notice that provides the free speech question, as lawsuits filed against the law believe that being forced to post such notices amounts to forced support for abortion.
There have been cases in other states with laws similar to the FACT that have been struck down. California claims that the FACT simply requlates professional speech, which is within its ability. There are states, such as Illinois and Hawaii, that have similar laws that have not been tested. A Supreme Court ruling to strike down the law would likely have the result of striking down all similar state laws. Should the California law be upheld, it would be likely other states would adopt such laws.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the chair of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Committee on Pro-Life Activities, issued a statement concerning this important case.
“Pro-life pregnancy care centers embody everything that is right and good in our nation: generosity, compassion and love that is offered to support both mother and child. But rather than applauding and encouraging the selfless and life-affirming work of these centers, some governments want to force them to provide free advertising for the violent act of abortion in direct violation of their pro-life convictions and the First Amendment. The United States Supreme Court cannot let this happen. We pray that the Court will do the right thing and uphold our fundamental right to free speech when it decides this case.”
In addition, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and several other groups filed a friend-of-the-court brief before the Supreme Court supporting the pro-life pregnancy centers in this important free speech case. The other groups are the California Catholic Conference, the Catholic Health Association of the United States, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, the Christian Legal Society and Agudath Israel of America. The full text of the brief is available online: http://www.usccb.org/about/general-counsel/amicus-briefs/upload/NIFLA-Amicus-2018-01-13F.pdf