9th Circuit: State Can Force Pro-Life Pregnancy Centers to Promote Abortion

By Lauretta Brown | October 18, 2016 | 1:10 PM EDT

(AP Photo)

(CNSNews.com) – The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals issued a decision on Friday upholding a California law mandating that all licensed pregnancy centers “disseminate to clients” a message promoting public programs with “free or low-cost access” to abortion and contraceptive services.

The law, dubbed “The Reproductive FACT Act” by its supporters went into effect on January 1st and requires pregnancy centers to post the notice that, “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 fines pregnancy centers that fail to disseminate this message “a civil penalty of five hundred dollars ($500) for a first offense and one thousand dollars ($1,000) for each subsequent offense.”

The three pregnancy care centers involved in the lawsuit, National Institute of Family and Life Advocates, Pregnancy Care Center, and Fallbrook Pregnancy Resource Center are all religiously affiliated non-profits and claim that the law infringes upon their First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and free exercise of religion.

The court countered the pregnancy centers’ First Amendment complaints in the decision by arguing that the required message merely “informs the reader only of the existence of publicly-funded family-planning services,” and “does not contain any more speech than necessary, nor does it encourage, suggest, or imply that women should use those state-funded services.”

The court argued that “California has a substantial interest in the health of its citizens, including ensuring that its citizens have access to and adequate information about constitutionally protected medical services like abortion.”

The court concluded that the law is a “content-based regulation that does not discriminate based on viewpoint.”

The pregnancy centers are represented in their lawsuit by the Alliance Defending Freedom.

“It’s bad enough if the government tells you what you can’t say, but a law that tells you what you must say—under threat of severe punishment—is even more unjust and dangerous,” Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Counsel Matt Bowman said of the decision Friday. “In this case, political allies of abortionists are seeking to punish pro-life pregnancy centers, which offer real hope and help to women.”

“Forcing these centers to promote abortion and recite the government’s preferred views is a clear violation of their constitutionally protected First Amendment freedoms,” he added. “That’s why other courts around the country have halted these kinds of measures and why we will be discussing the possibility of appeal with our clients.”

National Institute for Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA) President Thomas Glessner said in a statement, “It is unfortunate, but not surprising, that the liberal Ninth Circuit Court three-judge panel upheld California’s violation of federal law, the U.S. Constitution, and human rights.”

“The ‘Reproductive FACT Act’ forces pregnancy resource centers and medical clinics to violate consciences, free speech, and religious beliefs. This violation of the foundational roots of the American Republic will not stand,” Glessner said. “There are pending legal options to pursue, and we are discussing with our attorneys our most effective options. This battle is far from over.”

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