By: Anne O’Connor, J.D.
Vice President of Legal Affairs, NIFLA
This case is really not about abortion, although that’s the message the government is targeting. It is fundamentally a pure free speech, First Amendment case. Whether a person describes themselves as pro-choice or pro-life, Republican or Democrat, Christian or otherwise, all Americans should be alarmed when the government attempts to force its people to say something that advances a cause that violates their sincerely held beliefs.
The National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA) is a national nonprofit providing legal counsel, education, and training for pro-life pregnancy centers and medical clinics. We currently have 1,450 pregnancy center members nationwide; 140 of them are located in California. Pregnancy centers offer hope and real options to women and men facing unplanned pregnancies so that they don’t feel that abortion is their only choice, as many do.
The NIFLA case is challenging a 2015 California law that specifically targets pro-life pregnancy centers and clinics in two ways:
- It requires pro-life, licensed clinics to prominently post large signs in their waiting areas or provide a form informing clients that California offers free or low-cost abortions to women who qualify, along with a phone number that provides quick access to abortion clinics. It requires the notice to be in every language designated by the county, which in some instances can be as many as 13 different languages. Essentially, the government is using its power to force the walls of nonprofit pro-life clinics to be billboard advertisements for the for-profit abortion industry.
- The law requires pro-life, non-medical centers to post a prominent sign in several places in their building and conspicuously in all their advertising, again in multiple languages, that advertises what they don’t do and don’t even claim to do: “This facility is not licensed as a medical facility by the State of California and has no licensed medical provider who provides or directly supervises the provision of services.” These 29 words in multiple languages effectively wipe out any advertising the centers would try to do, especially over the internet. (See an example of this advertisement here.)
The crux of the issue at stake is whether Americans can be forced by the government to promote messages that conflict with their sincerely held beliefs. In this case, it is whether the government can force pro-life centers to advertise for state-sponsored abortions. There are few things more hostile to freedom than forcing a person to advance a cause she despises, but that is exactly what the State of California is trying to do to these nonprofit organizations.
If the government was really interested in getting this information out to women in the State of California, there are numerous ways they could accomplish that without compelling pro-life citizens to do it for them. They could do a public relations campaign of their own with internet, radio, television, and billboard advertising. They do so with other issues like suicide, smoking, and opioids.
The California law was passed in 2015 and went into effect January 1, 2016. Alliance Defending Freedom immediately filed suit on behalf of NIFLA and its 140 pregnancy centers in California asking that the courts halt enforcement of this law. Unfortunately, the district court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit both denied this request. We were very grateful when the Supreme Court agreed to hear our case.
Approximately 30 friend-of-the-court briefs were filed in support of NIFLA, including briefs representing 22 states, 144 members of Congress, 23 esteemed law professors, and many pro-family and pro-life groups.
What is at stake if we lose this case?
The pro-life centers in California will face severe fines if they do not comply. The Los Angeles City Attorney has already gone after the centers in Los Angeles and tried to shut their doors for not complying. If California succeeds with this law, you can be sure it will be duplicated in many other states across this country.
Even more concerning is that if the government can successfully force pro-life pregnancy centers to promote abortion, which organizations will be targeted next? Conservative advocacy groups? Conservative news agencies? Conservative colleges? Religious organizations? Houses of worship?
You see, it’s not just about handing out a piece of paper or posting it on our walls – it’s about the right of American citizens under the U.S. Constitution to be free from being compelled by the government to promote a message that is antithetical to their beliefs.
The Court will hear our oral arguments on March 20, 2018. ADF President, CEO, and General Counsel Michael Farris, a brilliant constitutional law advocate, will be arguing the case before the Supreme Court on our behalf. We hope you will join us in prayer concerning this case, as well as join us on the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court on March 20 in solidarity. For more information, visit: