US Supreme Court sides with anti-abortion centers in free-speech case

Agence France-Presse

Posted at Jun 27 2018 02:42 AM

Abortion rights opponents demonstrate outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, Tuesday. Leah Millis, Reuters

The US Supreme Court on Tuesday ruled that a law requiring anti-abortion centers in California to inform pregnant clients that they could obtain the procedure elsewhere was likely unconstitutional, in a closely watched case on free speech.

The justices ruled 5-4 to overturn a lower court decision in the case, saying in the majority opinion that California's notice law "imposes an unduly burdensome disclosure requirement" on the clinics to express an opinion they did not share.

Anti-abortion groups had argued in March before the high court that the 2015 California law, backed by Democrats, violates their right to freedom of expression guaranteed by the First Amendment to the US Constitution.

Critics say the centers use deceptive tactics to trick women into thinking they are entering an abortion clinic -- in a bid to dissuade them from going through with the procedure.

Conservative Justice Clarence Thomas, who wrote the majority decision, stated that the law requiring the centers to inform pregnant women as to "how they can obtain state-subsidized abortions" while they "try to dissuade women from choosing that option ... plainly alters the content of petitioners' speech."

But liberal Justice Stephen Breyer, writing the dissenting opinion, argued that the court had previously upheld state laws requiring doctors to inform abortion-seekers about available adoption services. 

"If a state can lawfully require a doctor to tell a woman seeking an abortion about adoption services, why should it not be able, as here, to require a medical counselor to tell a woman seeking prenatal care or other reproductive healthcare about childbirth and abortion services?" he wrote.

The case was brought by the Christian conservative group National Institute of Family and Life Advocates, which runs so-called "crisis pregnancy centers."

Women with unplanned pregnancies who go to the facilities are encouraged to parent their babies or offer them for adoption, rather than end their pregnancies.

California's law requires such centers to clearly tell their clients whether they are able to practice medicine and whether health care professionals are on hand.

The facilities must also post notices providing information about public programs offering free or low-cost contraception, abortion and prenatal care.

Anti-abortion groups were quick to celebrate the court ruling. "California can no longer force crisis pregnancy centers to speak a message that goes directly against their religious beliefs and mission to save lives," said Mat Staver of the Liberty Council, a Christian organization that opposes abortion. 

"The First Amendment protects the right to speak and the right not to speak."

An anti-abortion push has gathered steam in the United States since Donald Trump took office in January 2017, with his mainly anti-abortion Republican Party controlling Congress.

The pro-choice group NARAL said that "the damage that the Trump administration is doing to our courts and our rights will last for generations."

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