You’ve heard the old joke about the guy who went to a fight and a hockey game broke out?
Something like that happens every January in Washington, D.C., as tens or hundreds of thousands turn out in the biting cold to proclaim their heartfelt commitment to protecting human life at the annual March for Life. They are jeered, inevitably, by those convinced that democracy ennobles the killing of children in the womb.
Both sides skate the airwaves, trying to knock the others’ best spokespersons out of the rink. But for those who’ve never seen – and who actually show up and wade out into – the icy free-for-all, something rather wonderful unfolds: our American ideals, in all their shivering glory.
Life, proclaimed and defended in the face of judicial travesty. Liberty, exercised through vigorous free speech and debate. And happiness, pursued through peaceful assembly and the unswerving conviction that our nation may yet be made better. Which is, after all, the goal.
This year’s March for Life, however, offered a new element of context to the 45-year-old faceoff of ideals and opinions. It came just weeks before the U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments in a case that posits “pro-choice” government officials as a growing threat to Americans who would choose for themselves what messages they want to communicate.
This breathtaking hypocrisy is at the heart of National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA) v. Becerra, in which the high court will determine if California officials are violating constitutional rights by requiring pro-life pregnancy care centers to provide free advertising for the state’s abortion industry.
Two years ago, California passed AB 775. The law compels all licensed medical centers that offer free, pro-life help to pregnant women to prominently post a sign saying the state provides free or low-cost abortion and contraception services. The sign must include a phone number for a county office that refers women to Planned Parenthood and other abortionists. The law also requires signs and ads in unlicensed pregnancy centers that are designed to deter women from seeking their help, by requiring accentuation of their non-medical status, in up to 13 languages, obscuring any pro-life message they are trying to convey.
This is incredibly like requiring nutritionists to hang a sign on the office door telling patients where to get free fast food. Or forcing Alcoholics Anonymous to begin each meeting by handing out the phone number of saloons giving away Jim Beam and Coors.
You get the idea. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, however, did not, and upheld a federal district judge’s decision keeping the law in effect, even as other courts around the nation are invalidating similar laws — in Texas, Maryland, and New York. On the other hand, Hawaii and Illinois legislators have passed laws akin to California’s; the Illinois version would require pro-life OB-GYNs in the state to present their patients with abortion options and contact information to facilitate those abortions.
All of which prompted NIFLA and two pregnancy centers to appeal their case to the Supreme Court, claiming the California statute infringes on their constitutionally protected free speech and is deliberately biased against pregnancy care centers. (Evidence in support of that claim: one legislative committee report candidly notes that the bill’s author described the pro-life centers’ message as “unfortunate,” since it actually aims “to discourage and prevent women from seeking abortions.”)
Legislators friendly to (and drawing campaign funds from) abortion advocates are undoubtedly under pressure to throw the abortionists some support. California could do so by doing their own advertising and even taking out billboards next to pregnancy centers, if they’re of a mind to do so. Instead, they’re forcing pro-lifers to advertise for abortion. That’s more than unconstitutional – imagine the refs requiring the Red Wings to send pucks through the net for the Rangers.
“No one should be forced to provide free advertising for the abortion industry,” says Michael Farris, president of Alliance Defending Freedom, which is representing NIFLA at the Supreme Court. “Compelled speech strikes at the very heart of constitutionally protected liberties, which are most at risk when speakers are targeted by government officials who disagree with their thoughts and ideas.”
The legislative overreach is sufficiently egregious to have already prompted 22 states, 144 members of Congress, and a flurry of concerned organizations to file friend-of-the-court briefs with the high court in support of NIFLA. And it’s easy to understand the growing outrage.
It’s one thing to threaten life in the womb – or a liberty as hard-wired into the American DNA as freedom from compelled speech – or even the simple desire of vulnerable, pregnant women to pursue a happy outcome like adoption, or choosing to keep the child growing inside.
But California legislators have found a one-law way of striking hard at all three of our nation’s most cherished values. That’s a legal hat trick the Supreme Court should quickly put on ice.
Kevin Theriot is senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom and vice president of its Center for Life.
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