In a previous ruling, judges for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit upheld California’s law requiring ‘Crisis Pregnancy Centers’ that offer some medical services such as ultrasounds, to meet specific requirements and be licensed. They must also display or relay to a woman the state’s message: “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. To determine whether you qualify, contact the county social services office.”
The Supreme Court of the United States, in a 5-4 decision, overturned the Court of Appeals decision, ruling that the law violates a center’s constitutional rights by forcing them to deliver a message that is antithetical to their mission statement of encouraging women to carry on their pregnancies rather than end them. “By requiring petitioners to inform women how they can obtain state-subsidized abortions, at the same time petitioners try to dissuade women from choosing that option.. . . plainly alters the content of petitioners’ speech,” wrote Justice Clarence Thomas. Lawyers for the centers argued that the law violates two first amendment principles, targeting disfavored speakers and compelling them to deliver the state’s message, where that message has profound moral and ideological disagreement.
California’s lawyers argued that the law’s message takes no position on abortion, rather, it is informational in nature and comes at a time when women in need should be made aware of all kinds of services, including state services. Justice Stephen G. Breyer wrote the dissent, stating that the court has repeatedly upheld state laws that provide a script for doctors when they are counseling women who seek abortion.
“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?…As the question suggests, there is no convincing reason to distinguish between information about adoption and information about abortion in this context,” Breyer wrote.