By Rachel N. Busick, Staff Counsel
Today, in a 5-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled to protect the free speech of pro-life pregnancy centers in National Institute of Family and Life Advocates v. Becerra. The decision by Justice Thomas (joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Kennedy, Alito, and Gorsuch) reversed the Ninth Circuit’s ruling that had upheld a California law requiring pro-life pregnancy centers to post notices about the state’s free abortion program.
AUL filed a “friend of the court” brief in this case on behalf of several leading pro-life medical groups—the American Association of Pro-life Obstetricians & Gynecologists, the American College of Pediatricians, and the Christian Medical & Dental Associations—arguing that “[a] sign on the wall . . . is not informed consent.” The forced notice is not any part of informed consent because it does not relate to any of the medical procedures that the pregnancy centers offer.
The Supreme Court agreed with this argument, stating: “The licensed notice at issue here is not an informed-consent requirement or any other regulation of professional conduct. The notice does not facilitate informed consent to a medical procedure. In fact, it is not tied to a procedure at all.”
The Court held that the notice was a content-based regulation on speech, and thus likely violates the First Amendment. Further, the notice was neither “professional speech,” which the Court has never recognized as a category of speech that is subject to lesser protection, nor “commercial speech,” which generally applies when professionals are required to disclose factual, noncontroversial information. As the Court explained, “The notice in no way relates to the services that licensed clinics provide. Instead, it requires these clinics to disclose information about state-sponsored services— including abortion, anything but an ‘uncontroversial’ topic.”
This case is a victory for more than just the pregnancy centers; it is also a victory for the thousands of women who go to the centers seeking life-affirming care and support. AUL is encouraged by this ruling, and our legal team will continue to support the excellent work of pregnancy centers, which provide a broad range of support from practical counseling and training to concrete resources such as diapers, formula, and baby clothes. As AUL CEO Catherine Glenn Foster noted a few months ago in an editorial in The Hill anticipating the Supreme Court’s decision, “[W]hen scared women enter a Pregnancy Care Center seeking help in a vulnerable situation, the walls they see should represent the care and compassion those Centers promote. Walls can talk, and the Supreme Court should make sure everyone is free to decide what stories their walls will tell.” The High Court has done that today, and every American should be thankful.