Anti-Abortion-Rights Groups Oppose ‘Compelled’ Speech Unless They’re Doing The Compelling

Alliance Defending Freedom President Mike Farris at Supreme Court rally, April 29, 2017. (Photo: Peter Montgomery / Right Wing Watch)

Religious Right groups rallied today at the U.S. Supreme Court, which heard a case brought by a network of anti-abortion “pregnancy centers” that are challenging the FACT Act, a California law that requires pregnancy centers to let women know that the state provides women with access to free or low-cost pre-natal care, birth control and abortion. The law, which was upheld by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, also requires centers that operate without a medical license to disclose that fact. Anti-abortion-rights groups are challenging both provisions.

The National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA), the group challenging California’s law, says the case is about the state forcing anti-abortion groups to advertise for abortion. California Attorney General Xavier Becerra says the law does not require any organization to refer women to an abortion provider; the state’s “carefully neutral” notice is meant to give women important factual information “at a critical moment.”

NIFLA is being represented free of charge by the Alliance Defending Freedom, the same group behind Mississippi’s new 15-week abortion ban, which is part of ADF’s strategy to overturn Roe v. Wade and ban abortion outright. Religious Right legal group (and “church auxiliary”) Liberty Counsel also brought a challenge to the law and is among the Religious Right groups that filed amicus briefs in the case. In an email Tuesday morning, former Colorado legislator Gordon Klingenschmitt called the California law “demonically inspired.”

ADF President Mike Farris, a longtime Religious Right activist, argued today’s case. Earlier, Farris said California is “not trying to do anything other than to facilitate people choosing abortion, and forcing pro-lifers to be the facilitators.” Farris says, “If the government can force you to give a message that’s contrary to what you believe, there is no limit to that principle and it’s extremely dangerous.” In a fundraising pitch sent on Tuesday morning before the Supreme Court argument, ADF warned that the California law is part of a pattern of “Christians being silenced or forced out of their professions.” Another of ADF’s fundraising emails connected to the case declares, “This is Tyranny.”

Religious Right outrage over “compelled speech” in this case stands in stark contrast to anti-abortion groups’ advocacy for laws that, in the name of “informed consent,” require doctors and other medical professionals to give women considering abortion information that they believe to be misleading and medically inaccurate.

Religious Right groups have backed requirements that, for example, doctors tell women abortion is linked to breast cancer. The American Cancer Society stated in a 2014 statement still available on the group’s website, “At this time, the scientific evidence does not support the notion that abortion of any kind raises the risk of breast cancer or any other type of cancer.”

A 2016 study by The Informed Consent Project at Rutgers University-New Brunswick examined information booklets provided by 23 states that require “informed consent.” The study found that nearly a third of the information in the materials was medically inaccurate. In some states, more than 40 percent of information in the legally required information packets given to women seeking abortion was found to be inaccurate.

Amy Myrick, an attorney at the Center for Reproductive Rights, told a reporter that if the court rules that California’s notification requirement is a free speech violation, state laws “that require providers to give women misleading or untruthful information about discredited links between breast cancer and abortion or mental health harms and abortion” should “clearly be found to be unconstitutional.”

As National Public Radio’s Nina Totenberg noted on Tuesday, some pregnancy centers use deception to get women seeking information on abortion to come through their doors. Unlicensed clinics are often made to resemble medical clinics, down to staff wearing white coats and medical scrubs even though they are not doctors and nurses. As we noted in 2015, pregnancy center networks have portrayed themselves as being positioned to “replace” Planned Parenthood as a provider of family planning and health care to women. But centers affiliated with some major networks do not provide women information about, or referrals for, contraception.

PFAW Foundation joined with 50 other civil rights and social justice groups in filing an amicus brief in support of the California law, emphasizing the harm done by deceptive crisis pregnancy centers and the law’s compliance with the First Amendment.