National Institute of Family and Life Advocates v. Becerra
This week, the justices heard oral arguments in National Institute of Family and Life Advocates v. Becerra, a case about whether a California law that directs “crisis pregnancy centers” to provide their patients with specific kinds of information – including, for some, the availability of low-cost or free abortions – violates the First Amendment’s free speech clause. California’s Reproductive FACT Act requires nonprofits that are licensed to provide medical services (such as pregnancy tests and ultrasound examinations) to post notices to inform their patients that free or low-cost abortions are available. The law also requires facilities without such licenses to include disclaimers in their advertisements to make clear that they do not provide medical services.
The purpose of crisis pregnancy centers is to stop women from obtaining abortions, not to provide them with options. The FACT Act aimed to make sure women who go to crisis centers will not only be presented with one-sided and deceptive advertising.
Lead by Justice Ginsburg, the liberal justices immediately began this line of questioning: If a state that opposes abortion can require a doctor who performs abortions to tell a pregnant woman about the possibility of adoption, why can’t a state that supports abortion rights require a doctor to tell a pregnant woman about the availability of free or low-cost abortions?
I have pondered this question too. Louisiana’s Act 411 (2011), known as the Women's Right to Know Law, requires abortion clinics to post a sign in each patient admission area, waiting room and patient consulting room that includes information about adoption, child support and attempts to direct women to crisis pregnancy centers.
Justices Ginsburg, Sotomayor and Breyer did not see the difference. Justice Kagan was skeptical, as was Justice Alito, that this law exempted certain facilities; seemingly targeting crisis pregnancy centers.
We believe that women have the right to know their options when it comes to their health. But a win for the crisis pregnancy centers in this case could have unintended (and negative) consequences for anti-abortion efforts here is Louisiana.
After listening to the questions the justices raised, and California’s inability to provide clear answers, I am left wondering if the law might be in trouble. The Justice’s decision will come down in June.