When Free Speech Collides with the Abortion Culture
Imagine if Alcoholics Anonymous had to post directions to the nearest bar or cut-rate liquor store?
Or if Weight Watchers had to send people to Baskin-Robbins or Fatburger?
Or if Gamblers Anonymous had to give out maps to the nearest casino?
An outrageous California law mandates that pro-life crisis pregnancy centers tell clients where to find low-cost or free abortions, and to post a phone number where women can call for abortion information.
In National Institute of Family and Life Advocates v. Becerra, which was heard at the U.S. Supreme Court in March, pro-life advocates are challenging lower court rulings upholding the law.
“The Supreme Court’s upcoming ruling — probably in June — will have a monumental impact on the First Amendment,” writes Frank Pavone, national director of Priests for Life. “If the justices side with California, they will be declaring that states can target and regulate the speech of those private citizens who hold opinions not approved by a majority of the legislature and the governor. And if that happens, our Constitution’s guarantee of free speech will have been gutted.”
There is some hope that the Court will strike down the law. Even liberal justice Elena Kagan expressed concern during oral arguments about the statute’s implications for freedom of speech.
And the Court has ruled repeatedly against the concept of “compelled speech,” where someone is forced to say or facilitate an opinion with which he or she disagrees.
An Encouraging Trend
This year, federal courts have issued opinions that have cheered pro-lifers and ticked off the pro-abortion lobby.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit in early January unanimously ruled that a Baltimore city ordinance requiring pregnancy centers to post signs saying that they did not perform abortions or refer to abortion clinics was unconstitutional because it was not neutral in its application.
“We do not begrudge the City its viewpoint,” Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson wrote about the law enacted in 2009. “But neither may the City disfavor only those who disagree.”
The case involved a religious freedom claim by a center affiliated with the Roman Catholic church.
“The City has considerable latitude in regulating public health and deceptive advertising,” Judge Wilkinson III wrote. “But Baltimore’s chosen means here are too loose a fit with those ends, and in this case compel a politically and religiously motivated group to convey a message fundamentally at odds with its core beliefs and mission.”
On May 29, the Supreme Court declined to hear a case that sought to overturn an Arkansas law regulating abortion clinics. Under the 2015 law, abortionists must have contracts with physicians who have hospital admitting privileges. Planned Parenthood argued that this would severely limit the availability of abortions in the state, since they could not find doctors willing to sign such a contract.
On June 4, the Supreme Court unanimously vacated an order of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit that allowed a pregnant, illegal immigrant minor in federal custody to have an abortion in October. The Justice Department had opposed allowing the girl to be taken to an abortion clinic, but she got an abortion shortly after a federal judge ruled that the government had no right to prevent it.
The Court said the case was moot since the abortion had already occurred.
“If the opinion invokes an image of Pontius Pilate washing his hands, at least it muddies the waters for attorneys hoping to rush their future minor charges through the irrevocable and heart-breaking process of abortion,” Fr. Pavone commented.
A writer for Timothy Partners, Ltd. He is a regular weekly columnist for The Washington Times and Townhall.com and is frequently published by AmericanThinker.com, DailyCaller.com, OneNewsNow.com, and others. His latest book is “A Strong Constitution: What Would America Look Like If We Followed the Law” (D. James Kennedy Ministries, 2018).