In 2015, California passed a state law (AB775) forcing pro-life pregnancy centers to violate their beliefs and mission by advertising for the abortion industry. The law requires these pregnancy centers to communicate that California offers free or low-cost abortions and a phone number where women can call to get more information. This type of government-compelled speech is not permitted by our Constitution.
That’s why, on March 20, Alliance Defending Freedom argued before the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of our ally the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA) and its affiliated pregnancy centers in California.
We had the opportunity to connect with Heidi Matzke, an executive director of a California pregnancy center, and ask her some questions about her experience being involved in this case and standing up for freedom of speech.
Why did you start working at a pregnancy center?
I grew up in a Christian home. My little sister and I were very involved with the pro-life movement in high school. But despite our Christian values, my little sister got involved in a relationship that she knew wasn't right. Three months after breaking up with the young man, my sister was faced with an unplanned pregnancy at the age of 17. She found out she was pregnant the day we were leaving for college.
It was because of Alternatives Pregnancy Center in Denver and their great work that I have a 21-year-old nephew who is a youth pastor at a church in downtown Denver. [Alternatives Pregnancy Center] not only helped my sister in one of the most challenging times of her life, but they helped our family process this "crisis." Some pregnancy center directors don't like to use the word "crisis," but in our family, it truly was a crisis situation.
I now serve as Executive Director of Alternatives Pregnancy Center (APC) in Sacramento. Though it isn’t the same organization that helped my sister in Denver, APC in Sacramento has the same mission, and when my husband and I moved here, I knew I wanted to be a part of what they do. I wanted to give back and be part of a similar organization that gave my nephew life and our family hope!
When did you know this California law was a threat to your pregnancy center?
I knew we were in trouble the moment I read the law and its requirements for the first time. I was reading it aloud to APC's staff during our weekly team meeting, and we all quickly realized the ramifications if this law passed. The direct attack it would permit against nonprofit clinics that receive no government funding was painfully apparent. Everything from font size to advertising requirements, multiple language postings, and abortion listings/referrals would undermine all we stand for and cripple our integrity as we care for our clients. Our mission and core values would be forfeited before we'd even be able to meet with our clients. And all of this leads to the ultimate question, the curve in the road – first they want us to perjure our own beliefs, what will they demand next?
When did you decide, “I have to do something”?
Once we realized what was at stake – our voice, our message, our mission, our clinic, our clients, the unborn, our future, our donors who would never fund the abortion choice – we realized our very existence was jeopardized. We could not sit idly by and let this law go unnoticed for what it is – forced speech. The bottom line is that this isn’t about the word “abortion.” We tell women about abortion every day. We strive to inform and teach them about every angle of every choice, including abortion. We do not push a one-sided, incomplete story. We do, however, desire to frame the abortion discussion on our terms and in the timing best suited for each client. This law prevents that desire, distorts our voice, turning us into something we are not.
What has surprised you the most, going through this experience?
I have been surprised by all the work and financial resources that have gone into defending our First Amendment rights. In this country, we expect those in authority to defend and uphold our rights. With regards to AB775, however, we have experienced the substantial cost that comes with having to protect our freedom of speech, as we remind the government how fundamentally wrong it is to force its citizens to speak words that are contrary to their core beliefs. This coercion is a violation of our rights written of in our Constitution, and up until now, wasn't allowed. We've experienced the gut-wrenching terminology that is required by law, even though it is at war with the very fundamentals of why we exist as a clinic.