US Supreme Court to hear case on freedom of speech of pro-life pregnancy centers


The US Supreme Court has granted in part a petition to seek judicial review and will move forward with the case National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA) v. Becerra (Attorney General of California) by June 2018 (Click here for the full petition). The case comes from the US’s 9th Circuit Court of Appeal. The order was released Monday.

The crux of the issue is whether the state of California can require licensed pregnancy centers to provide information regarding state-funded prenatal, family planning, and abortion services. It is the requirement to provide information regarding abortion services that has pro-life pregnancy centers concerned. Although the law is intended to target misinformation that has been advertised by many of these centers in the past, the notice may still be found unconstitutional in nature, due to its specific targeting of predominantly religious organizations, and the compelling of speech these groups find contrary to their beliefs.

The goal of the legislation, according to California AG Becerra, is to ensure that all pregnant women are fully informed of all of their rights and options regarding their pregnancy. However, it is the position of NIFLA that this requirement is an unconstitutional form of compelled speech and an infringement of their 1st Amendment rights of freedom of expression. Despite the content of both arguments being centered around abortion, the constitutionality of abortion is not at issue in this case, only the content of speech.

The required notice reads as follows:

(1) The notice shall state:

“California has public programs that provide immediate free or low-cost access to comprehensive family planning services (including all FDA-approved methods of contraception), prenatal care, and abortion for eligible women.” – West’s Ann.Cal.Health & Safety Code § 123472 (In effect, January 2016)

This case is one of three new 1st amendment cases to be decided during the present nine month term, no doubt leading to a shift of free speech laws in the US. The judgment as to whether this notice requirement will establish a new precedent as to what the government can mandate in terms of information that is provided to pregnant women. The judgment may impact other free speech cases as well. It is also worth noting newly appointed judge Justice Neil M. Gorsuch, who has already become a strong and forceful conservative presence on the bench.

This blog post was written by a CCLA-PBSC RightsWatch student. Views expressed do not necessarily reflect the view of the CCLA or PBSC

About the Author

Nathan Prendergast
Nathan is a second year in the JD program at the University of Windsor Faculty of Law.