Supreme Court Rules California Can’t Compel Abortion Speech

Commentary & Community

Supreme Court Rules California Can’t Compel Abortion Speech


Abortion and free speech came together in a Supreme Court decision announced in late June. In a case over California’s law mandating that crisis pregnancy centers must tell patients about abortion services, the high court ruled that this type of requirement violated the First Amendment.


The case at question is National Institute of Family and Life Advocates v. Becerra involving the California Reproductive Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care, and Transparency Act. That law mandated that crisis pregnancy centers, which are set up by pro-life organizations to give prenatal counseling and provide post-birth services, must inform their clients about the health care services offered by the state, including subsidized abortions.


The National Institute of Family and Life Advocates sued the state, saying that the state could not compel individuals with anti-abortion views to counsel people about abortion services. In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court agreed that this likely violated the First Amendment.


Writing for the majority, Justice Clarence Thomas noted that the California law “imposes a government-scripted, speaker-based disclosure requirement that is wholly disconnected from the State’s informational interest.” In other words, it may be permissible for the state to require a disclosure about health care services, but it cannot single out these clinics to do so. He went on to write, “By requiring  petitioners to inform women how they can obtain state-subsidized  abortions—at the same time  petitioners try to dissuade women from choosing that option—the licensed notice plainly ‘alters the content’ of petitioners’ speech.”


Justice Stephen Breyer wrote the dissent, joined by three of his colleagues. He said that the majority opinion was written broadly enough to potentially undermine many government regulations requiring disclosure. He also pointed out that the court has ruled in prior abortion cases that doctors or other health care professionals can be compelled to offer advice that discourages abortion. He asked, “If a State can lawfully require a doctor to tell a woman seeking an abortion about adoption services, why should it not be able, as here, to require a medical counselor to tell a woman seeking prenatal care or other reproductive healthcare about childbirth and abortion services?”


Do you agree with the Supreme Court decision that crisis pregnancy centers cannot be forced to provide information about abortion?


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