SACRAMENTO, Calif .– By effectively repealing a California law to regulate anti-abortion pregnancy centers, the United States Supreme Court has dealt a blow to abortion right supporters who saw the law as a crucial step in pushing back the national movement against the procedure.
Democratic-led California became the first state in 2016 to require centers to provide information about access to birth control and abortion, and it came as Republican-led states have stepped up their efforts to thwart abortion rights.
Despite the court’s 5-4 decision on Tuesday, abortion rights advocates pledged to continue to fight what they call “bogus health centers,” but their next steps were not immediately clear.
Some saw the potential to use the ruling to push back laws in conservative states such as Wisconsin and Texas that require abortion providers to share adoption information or fight federal pressure to ban abortion providers. US-funded family planning clinics refer women for an abortion.
Hawaii and Illinois have laws similar to those in California, which require unlicensed centers to post information that says so and require licensed centers to provide information about accessing free or low-cost state programs. who provide birth control, antenatal care and abortion. The ruling endangers the laws of other states.
California lawmakers have said their law aims to crack down on centers that deceive women by not informing them of their options or providing medically inaccurate information aimed at dissuading them from having an abortion.
Lawyers saw some room for hope in Judge Stephen Breyer’s dissenting opinion. He said one of the reasons the law should stand is that the High Court has already upheld state laws requiring doctors to notify women seeking abortion of adoption services.
“After all, the law must be impartial,” he wrote.
Anti-abortion groups, meanwhile, hailed the decision as a victory for free speech and said the law required pregnancy centers in crisis to provide information about services they do not support. Thomas Glessner, president of the National Institute for Family and Life Advocates, which had sued the California law, called it “a big day for pro-life pregnancy centers.”
Estimates of the number of crisis pregnancy centers in the United States range from 2,500 to over 4,000, compared with fewer than 1,500 abortion providers, women’s rights groups said in court documents. NIFLA has links with 1,500 pregnancy centers nationwide and approximately 150 in California.
“California was really reacting to what was becoming a pervasive problem in California with these crisis pregnancy centers giving out false information,” said Maggy Krell, chief legal counsel for Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California.
California had not enforced the law in recent months. The judges sent the case back to lower courts, but wrote in the majority opinion that the centers “are likely to succeed” in their constitutional challenge to the licensed center part of the law.
“California cannot co-opt licensed facilities to deliver its message to it,” Judge Clarence Thomas wrote. He called for the obligation for unlicensed centers to post a notice stating that they are not accredited “unjustified and unduly restrictive”.
Abortion rights groups and California lawmakers have said they need to fully consider the decision before moving forward. A spokeswoman for state attorney general Xavier Becerra said her office “is closely monitoring our options to determine the best next steps.”
“The State of California and NARAL will just keep protecting the right to choose and extending it and ensuring that women truly have the full range of voices available to them,” said Amy Everitt, vice-president. president of special projects in abortion-rights. NARAL Pro-Choice America group. “How we operationalize this and the very next steps, I’m not sure. “
Lawyers said the attorney general and local authorities should continue to target crisis pregnancy centers that provide false information to consumers, such as brochures suggesting that abortions can lead to breast cancer.
They also stressed the importance of fighting the Trump administration’s appointment of anti-abortion judges to lower courts across the country. They suggested that although the crisis pregnancy center case was decided on the basis of free speech, the Conservatives are aiming for the large-scale elimination of the right to abortion.
California Assembly members David Chiu and Autumn Burke, both Democrats, said they would explore options for another legislative tour on the issue and said they could be more aggressive in the face of defeat.
“I don’t think the message we’re sending out today is that we’re going to back down,” Burke said. “I think the message we’re sending out today is, you shot one over the bow, we’re going to shoot three over the bow. “