2018 could mark a turning point in the fight against so-called “crisis pregnancy centers” (CPCs), those fake clinics that lie to women in order to deter them from getting an abortion.
CPCs have been in the news lately, and we’ll be hearing a lot more about them in the coming months—especially with the Supreme Court set to take a closer look at CPCs during its current term.
There are at least seven CPCs spread throughout Maine. For the most part, they operate as the roughly 3,000 CPCs nationwide do: by spreading misinformation, sowing unnecessary fear, and perpetuating stigmas around abortion, birth control, and sex. Furthermore, as Hannah Ruhlin recently wrote at the Maine Beacon, “CPCs often lie about the realities of abortion clinics, painting them as cold places where abortion is the only option.”
What we know, of course, is that abortion care providers like Maine Family Planning offer a wide range of comprehensive reproductive health care services, and that our expert clinicians are anything but cold; they offer compassionate and non-judgmental care to anyone who walks through the door.
Several states and municipalities have attempted to regulate CPCs by requiring them to disclose what they are (and what they are not, namely: medical facilities) and to fully inform women about their options regarding abortion, birth control, and prenatal care.
One of those states is California, with its Reproductive FACT Act—and that’s what the US Supreme Court will be looking at this spring.
As SCOTUSblog explained in November:
[T]he justices agreed to weigh in on a challenge by “crisis pregnancy centers” – nonprofits that try to steer pregnant women away from having abortions – to a California law that requires the centers to convey specific messages. The law mandates that nonprofits that are licensed to provide medical services post notices to inform their patients that free or low-cost abortions are available and to provide the telephone number of the state agency that can put the patients in touch with providers of those abortions. The groups that are not licensed to provide medical services – but try to support pregnant women by supplying them with diapers and formula, for example – must include disclaimers in their advertisements to make clear – in up to 13 languages – that their services do not include medical help.
The nonprofits went to court, arguing that California’s law violates the First Amendment, both by requiring them to convey the messages and, because the requirements do not apply to clinics that perform abortions, by targeting them because they discourage women from seeking abortions. A federal district court rejected their arguments, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit affirmed. The nonprofits went to the Supreme Court last spring, hoping that it would agree to rule on their case. After asking the lower court to send the record in the case – a sure sign that at least one justice is looking at the case closely — today the court granted review to decide whether the disclosures required by the California law violate the First Amendment’s free speech clause; it declined to decide whether the disclosures run afoul of another part of the First Amendment that bars the government from prohibiting the free exercise of religion.
Oral arguments have not yet been scheduled. This will be the first abortion-related case with Justice Neil Gorsuch on the bench.
Back in November, Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, said the decision (likely to come down at the end of June) “could set the stage for how courts treat abortion rights for decades to come. As right-wing groups increasingly spread lies about abortion and basic reproductive health care, this case is an early test of whether the Supreme Court can guarantee our rights in the Trump era, including access to abortion care.”
Indeed, Media Matters abortion rights and reproductive health researcher Julie Tulbert warned at the end of December that we can expect a right-wing PR campaign on behalf of CPCs to “ramp up” in 2018.
“As the Supreme Court debates and decides NIFLA v. Becerra in 2018, the media should call out CPCs when they use deceptive tactics, and resist promoting the inevitable right-wing spin that free speech of such organizations is being unduly impeded,” Tulbert wrote.
Constitutional law scholar Robert A. Sedler explained in an op-ed just this week why, “[i]n my opinion, the California law does not violate the First Amendment. It doesn’t compel the clinics to say or not say anything, only to post truthful information provided by the state.”
“The Constitution enables the state to require that pregnant women seeking medical advice and assistance with their pregnancy have complete and accurate information so that they can make a fully informed choice,” wrote Sedler. “That is what this case is all about.”
Maine Family Planning will be watching and we’ll keep you updated as arguments are scheduled.