Yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments on the case National Institute of Family and Life Advocates v. Becerra. The main legal question in the case is whether California can, by law, force pregnancy care centers to post a large disclosure stating that California offers free or low-cost abortions and that pregnancy care centers do not provide medical services. Just to be clear, this law (the Reproductive Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care, and Transparency Act or Reproductive FACT Act) requires pregnancy care centers, which exist to dissuade women from having abortions, to advertise for abortions. Here are three important facts/things you should know about the case.
- This is about Pregnancy Care Centers. Okay, so I am starting with the obvious. This is significant, however, because pregnancy care centers are not your average participant in an abortion case. Though abortion is considered a “culture war” issue, pregnancy care centers have largely sidestepped the maelstrom of the public square by focusing on helping women through unwanted pregnancies. These clinics (1) are local, (2) lead with a strategy of love and (3) lead people to Christ. For these reasons, these clinics have been a devastatingly effective tool in the effort to end abortion. Consider the clinic in my home town, which literally put the local Planned Parenthood out of business and is now occupying their former space (guess who was smiling while he wrote the lease). Here’s the point: many church leaders and Christians today desire to avoid the “culture war” and just love people. Well, this case proves that effective ministry outside the walls of our churches will probably draw the attention and ire of secular forces no matter how apolitical our efforts.
- The right to speak extends to the right not to speak. This theme keeps popping up in religious defense cases. Remember the Masterpiece Cakeshop case about the baker who declined to make a cake for a same-sex wedding? Same legal principle. If we truly have the right of free speech, the government cannot (1) suppress our speech or (2) compel us to speak up for something that is contrary to our convictions. Free speech necessarily extends to the right to remain silent. That’s the big issue in the case. Can the government force private, anti-abortion clinics to advertise for abortion using a 29-word disclaimer in up to 13 languages? We think not.
- The Justices seemed to side with the pregnancy care centers. Oral arguments are indicative of the Court’s position on a case but are certainly not conclusive. That said, many of the Justices voiced deep concern about the law. Justice Samuel Alito questioned whether the “crazy exemptions” in the law indicated an intentional discrimination against pregnancy care clinics. Justice Elena Kagan, one of the more liberal justices, seemed to agree with Alito and questioned whether the law was “gerrymandered” or specifically drawn up to target pregnancy care clinics. Justice Anthony Kennedy, often considered the swing vote in controversial cases, asked Joshua Klein, the attorney for the state of California, whether the law would apply to a billboard with the words, “Choose Life.” When Klein seemed to admit that such a billboard would require the 29-word disclaimer, Kennedy stated that such an onerous requirement was probably an “undue burden…that should suffice to invalidate the statute.” In summary, the Court seemed to side with the Centers and against the law.
This case proves that we should not allow those who oppose our ministry to set the rules for our ministry. Hopefully, this case will result in a big win for free speech and religious freedom.