The Supreme Court of the United States issued a blow to women’s right to obtain abortions today (June 26). In a 5-4 decision in NIFLA v. Becerra, a conservative majority of judges led by Justice Clarence Thomas ruled that a California state law requiring “crisis pregnancy centers” to supply women with information about abortion likely violates the First Amendment.
Crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) are facilities created by anti-abortion organizations to counsel women against abortion. They date back to the early 1970s, and there are approximately 2,700 CPCs nationwide, more than three times the number of clinics that actually provide abortions.
National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA)—an organization that provides legal counsel and training to CPCs, including 135 facilities in California—filed NIFLA v. Becerra to challenge the Reproductive FACT Act, a California law that required anti-abortion organizations to inform women about abortions and contraception options. It also required unlicensed CPCs to disclose that they have not earned medical certification.
NIFLA argued that the law violated its right to free speech, as it required the organization and the facilities it works with to convey information that was at odds with their beliefs. On the organization’s website, it writes that the Reproductive FACT Act “means that nonprofit pro-life medical clinics as well as their staff and volunteers are being forced to violate their consciences—an outright violation of their First Amendment rights.”
The case pitted the right to know against the right of free speech. On one side, self-identified "crisis pregnancy centers" that seek to prevent abortions, and on the other side the state of California, which enacted a law to ensure that these centers do not intentionally or unintentionally mislead the women who walk through their doors.
Writing for the majority, Justice Clarence Thomas said in his opinion that the law "targets speakers, not speech, and imposes an unduly burdensome disclosure requirement that will chill their protected speech." Regarding the aspect of the law in which CPCs must disclose if they are not a licensed medical facility, he supported a revised law, writing, "We express no view on the legality of a similar disclosure requirement that is better supported or less burdensome.”
NARAL Pro-Choice America president Ilyse Hogue said in a statement about the ruling: "Fake women’s health centers, with the rest of the well-funded and well-connected anti-choice movement, have been working towards this moment for decades. They have carefully put the pieces together—passing radical and unconstitutional abortion bans, stacking the lower courts—because they are counting on Trump’s Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade. Roe is at greater risk than ever before."
Dr. Willie Parker, board chair of Physicians for Reproductive Health, released a statement which reads in part, "As doctors, we know it’s important for pregnant women to have all of the information and resources they need. No one should use deceptive or manipulative tactics to prevent someone from learning about abortion or contraception, and no one should delay women from getting care."
#NIFLAvBecerra decision is devastating," tweeted Stephanie Schriock, president of EMILY’s List, which has raised more than $500 million to support pro-choice Democratic women candidates. "It will let fake clinics lie to vulnerable women and withhold potentially life-saving medical care. Elections have consequences—but our fight isn’t over. We have to elect a wave of pro-choice Dem women who will defend our health care."