The U.S. Supreme Court has announced on Monday that it will hear the case against a California law that requires pregnancy centers to provide information about government abortion programs.
The National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA), which represents 137 of California's roughly 200 pregnancy centers, filed the lawsuit against the state's Reproductive Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care, and Transparency (FACT) Act, arguing that the law violates both free speech and religious freedom.
The law, signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2015, requires pregnancy centers to post notices including contact information for local providers of free or low-cost abortions and contraception. It also requires unlicensed pregnancy centers to include large disclosures about their non-medical status even if they provide no medical services.
According to Life News, the law was upheld by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in October, prompting NIFLA to appeal the case to the Supreme Court.
"California enacted the Reproductive FACT Act with the stated purpose of targeting pro-life 'crisis pregnancy centers' based on their viewpoint that 'discourage[s]' abortion.... The Ninth Circuit candidly admits that it upheld the Act amidst a 'circuit split' over how to scrutinize regulations of speech by medical professionals on controversial health issues," the petition filed with the Supreme Court in March stated.
The high court has agreed to hear the case but noted that it will limit its consideration to the question of free speech, and is therefore not expected to address claims of religious freedom violations.
The law is the subject of multiple lawsuits, and it has been enforced against three pregnancy centers in Los Angeles since it took effect on Jan. 2016.
The Pacific Justice Institute is representing three medical clinics in a lawsuit, while the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) is representing three more.
The government of California has defended the law by arguing that regulating professional speech in a medical context upholds its valid state interest in safeguarding public health.
In another case last month, a Southern California judge issued a permanent injunction against the FACT Act, saying it has violated free speech protections.
Riverside County Superior Court Judge Gloria Trask contended that the law "compels speech, and regulates content," adding that California's "ability to impress free citizens into state services in this political dispute cannot be absolute; it must be limited."
According to Christianity Today, the 2018 ruling on the case will apply to three other lawsuits challenging the FACT Act.
"This unbelievable government mandate forces pregnancy help centers and staff to be puppets of the government and channel the state's abortion message," said Mat Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel, which represents a case brought against California by Mountain Right to Life. "We are hopeful this forced speech law will be overturned by the Supreme Court," he added.