WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court has said a California law that requires anti-abortion pregnancy centers to provide abortion information likely violates the Constitution.
Tuesday’s 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.
Judge Clarence Thomas said in his majority opinion that the centers “would likely succeed” in their constitutional challenge to the law.
“California cannot co-opt licensed facilities to deliver its message to it,” Thomas wrote for himself and his fellow Conservatives, 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.
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.
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 court has already upheld requirements that doctors at abortion clinics must educate patients about alternatives to abortion.
In another lawsuit over the regulation of crisis pregnancy centers, a New York federal appeals court overturned parts of a New York City order, although it upheld the requirement for the centers. unlicensed to declare that they did not have a 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.
Doctors’ speech has also been a problem in non-abortion cases. A federal appeals court overturned parts of a 2011 Florida law that sought to prohibit doctors from discussing gun safety with their patients. By law, doctors risked fines and the possible loss of their medical license for discussing guns with patients.