WASHINGTON (AP) – The Supreme Court effectively ended a California law on Tuesday that requires anti-abortion pregnancy centers to provide abortion information.
The 5-4 decision also casts doubt on similar laws in Hawaii and Illinois.
California law came into effect in 2016. It requires state-licensed centers to notify their clients of the availability of contraception, abortion, and prenatal care, at little or no cost. Centers that were not accredited were required to display a sign indicating this. The court struck down this part of the law.
The centers said they were singled out and forced to deliver a message they did not agree with. California said the law was needed for poor women to know all of their options.
Justice Clarence Thomas, in his majority opinion, said the centers would “likely succeed” in their constitutional challenge to the licensed center part of the law. This means that even though the law is currently in force, its opponents can return to the courts for an order terminating its application. A lawyer for the challengers said on Tuesday they expected to be able to do so quickly. California, however, did not enforce the law.
“California cannot co-opt licensed facilities to deliver its message to it,” Thomas wrote for himself, Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Anthony Kennedy, Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch. He described the requirement for unlicensed centers as “unjustified and unduly burdensome”.
Judge Stephen Breyer said one of the reasons the law should be upheld 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,” Breyer said in a dissenting opinion joined by fellow Liberals Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions and anti-abortion groups were among those who applauded the decision. The Trump administration had argued that California law violated the rights of licensed centers, but had no objection to the requirement of unlicensed centers. “Speakers shouldn’t be forced by their government to promote a message they disagree with, and pro-life pregnancy centers in California shouldn’t be forced to advertise abortion and to undermine the very reason for their existence, ”Sessions said in a statement Tuesday.
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, a Democrat, called the move “unfortunate” but said “our work to ensure Californians receive accurate information about their health care options will continue.”
The abortion rights group NARAL Pro-Choice California was a major sponsor of the California law. NARAL argues that the centers mislead women about their options and try to push them to forgo abortion. Estimates of the number of crisis pregnancy centers in the United States range from 2,500 to over 4,000, compared with less than 1,500 abortion providers, women’s rights groups said in a court filing supreme.
NARAL President Ilyse Hogue said in a statement after Tuesday’s ruling that the Supreme Court had “turned its back on women and tolerated deceptive tactics used by bogus women’s health centers.”
The California law has been challenged by the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates, an organization linked to 1,500 pregnancy centers nationwide and 140 in California. The group was represented on the Supreme Court by Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian law firm. NIFLA President Thomas Glessner applauded the court’s decision on Tuesday. He called the decision “monumental” and said it was a “big day for pro-life pregnancy centers” and for free speech.
Other cities and states have also passed laws relating to crisis pregnancy centers. In 2014, a New York City federal appeals court overturned parts of a New York City order, although it upheld the requirement for unlicensed centers to declare that they did not. license.
Other states have laws that regulate physician speaking in the context of abortion. In Louisiana, Texas and Wisconsin, doctors must display an ultrasound and describe the fetus to most pregnant women considering an abortion, according to the Guttmacher Institute, which supports the right to abortion. Similar laws have been blocked in Kentucky, North Carolina, and Oklahoma.
Associated Press reporter Kathleen Ronayne contributed to this report from Sacramento, California.