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SCOTUS to Consider Law Forcing Pro-Life Centers to Become 'Abortion Referral Agencies'

A pro-life lawyer defending pregnancy resource centers (PRCs) announced that his law firm is appealing its First Amendment lawsuit to the United States Supreme Court. According to him, a certain California law would require pro-life pregnancy centers to endorse abortion clinics, thus violating their rights to free speech and religious freedom.

"In essence, the law mandates that pro-life centers become abortion referral agencies, totally against their convictions, against their foundational beliefs, compelling speech," Tom Glessner, president and CEO of the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA), told PJ Media in an interview at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC).

California's Reproductive FACT (Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care, and Transparency) Act mandates that any facility which provides ultrasounds or prenatal care to pregnant women, or that provides counseling about contraception, or offers pregnancy testing, is required to post the following notice (emphasis added):

California has public programs that provide immediate free or low-cost access to comprehensive family planning services (including all FDA-approved methods of contraception), prenatal care, and abortion for eligible women. To determine whether you qualify, contact the county social services office at [insert the telephone number].

The bill, which became law in October 2015, stipulates that facilities which do not post such a notice within 30 days will be fined $500 for a first offense and $1,000 for each subsequent offense.

Most PRCs defended by NIFLA fall under this law, since they provide confirmation of pregnancy through ultrasound services, along with sexually transmitted infections (STIs). "Some of them are providing STI testing and treatment services, they all provide counseling, material resources, cribs, baby clothes, maternity clothes, accessories, referrals for adoption, referrals for legal help, referrals for housing," Glessner said.

NIFLA and Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) filed suit against the law, claiming that it violates the free speech and religious freedom rights of pregnancy resource centers. "A government that tells you what you can't say is dangerous, but a government that tells you what you must say — under threat of severe punishment — is terrifying," ADF Legal Counsel Matt Bowman said in a statement.

Glessner, the NIFLA president, attacked the law as violating both free speech and religious freedom. He argued that the United States Supreme Court has always held compelled speech to be a violation of the First Amendment. "The government cannot compel you or me or a church to present a message that it wants you to present and you disagree with," Glessner told PJ Media. "It just can't do that. That is an absolute violation of your First Amendment rights."

But the pregnancy resource centers Glessner represents "are all faith-based clinics," which means that compelling them to advertise for abortion clinics is a "violation of First Amendment freedom of religion as well." The NIFLA president added that the pregnancy centers are "basically staffed by volunteers," and while they have a few paid staff, those workers receive "salaries that are far under what they could earn in the free market."