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Supreme Court will hear challenge to California pregnancy center law

iStock/Thinkstock
iStock/Thinkstock

(WASHINGTON) — The Supreme Court on Monday said it will consider whether a California requirement for pregnancy centers in that state to provide information about publicly funded abortion and contraceptive services violates free-speech rights.

The petitioners, which say they are “life-affirming pregnancy centers”, argue that California’s Reproductive FACT ACT, “Forces licensed pro-life medical centers to post notices informing women how to contact the State at a particular phone number for information on how to obtain state-funded abortions, directly contradicting the centers’ pro-life message.” And that petitioners argue is a violation of the First Amendment, both its protections of speech and of free exercise.

The pro-life groups opposed to the FACT ACT, suggest they were “targeted” based on their religious viewpoint. In court documents, the petitioners argue, “The State of California forces licensed centers to communicate the government’s message about state-funded abortions to everyone who walks in the door. The State, rather than using countless alternative ways to communicate its message, including its own powerful voice, instead compels only licensed facilities that help women consider alternatives to abortion to express the government’s message regarding how to obtain abortions paid for by the State.”

Attorneys representing California in court documents argue, “Some 700,000 California women become pregnant each year, and over half of those pregnancies are unintended. The Act addresses two problems that pregnant Californians can face. “First, many women cannot afford medical care on their own, and are unaware of the public programs that are available to them.”

According to court documents, California’s attorneys said that the state legislature was trying to provide as much information as possible,“The state Legislature concluded the most effective way to ensure that women quickly obtain the information and services they need” is to require licensed health care facilities that are unable to immediately enroll patients into state-funded programs to advise each patient at the time of her visit that the programs exist and give information on how they may be accessed.”

The case represents the Supreme Court’s first major grant in an abortion-related case since the addition of its newest member, Justice Neil Gorsuch, said Kate Shaw, an ABC News Supreme Court contributor who also teaches at Cardozo Law School.

The case could have broader implications, she said.

“This case raises important First Amendment questions, and, depending on how the Court answers them, it could potentially impact the status of other state laws that regulate abortion — both those designed to facilitate access to abortion, and those designed to thwart it,” Shaw said.

The U.S Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit upheld the California law. Both the 4th and 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals have struck down similar laws.

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