Shutting down pro-life speech
Laws targeting pregnancy centers seek to stifle competition
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We all grew up hearing the adage, “I disagree with what you say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.” Well, the abortion industry is taking that wisdom in the exact opposite direction through a concerted collaboration with Democratic elected officials to outlaw speech they disagree with—namely speech by pregnancy resource centers that serve pregnant women without providing abortions. Their efforts are both un-American and unconstitutional, and these pro-life ministries are fighting back in court—and winning.
Several years ago, deep-blue California passed a law that required pro-life pregnancy resource centers (sometimes also called crisis pregnancy centers) to post information in their facilities directing women to the nearest abortion clinics. The centers took California to court, and eventually went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. There, in a case called NIFLA v. Becerra (2018), the court adopted the common-sense rule that though states could regulate medical practice, they could not compel these centers to prominently display posters that communicated messages that were at odds with everything the centers believed. The First Amendment, the court said, protects not only the right to speak, but also the right not to speak a government-ordered message.
After that loss, the pro-abortion forces are trying a new tack, with new laws in Vermont and Illinois again targeting these centers. The pro-abortion legislators are responding to complaints from Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers that pregnancy resource centers often rent property near abortion clinics, and use billboard advertising, sidewalk counselors, and physical proximity to divert women from abortion clinics to these pro-life centers, which offer many similar services like ultrasounds and nursing care, but not abortions. In other words, they’re effective at creating competition and offering alternatives to abortion, and it’s driving the abortion lobby crazy. So the abortionists are leveraging the power of government to shut down the speech of their competitors.
The new laws in Vermont and Illinois masquerade as “consumer protection” laws and claim that all they do is prohibit deceptive advertising by pregnancy resource centers that lure women in under the misimpression that they’re abortion clinics, and then actually talk them into keeping their babies. That sort of reasoning is flawed on numerous levels. First, these pregnancy resource centers are not for-profit businesses engaged in commercial speech, which generally gets less protection under the First Amendment. These are church ministries engaged in cultural and political speech on one of the most important and controversial issues of the day: abortion. Their speech is at the heart of the First Amendment, and should receive the greatest protection.
Second, it is not “misinformation” to tell women certain inconvenient truths about abortion’s side effects, for instance, that the abortion clinics would rather they not hear. The Illinois law, for instance, bans “misinformation, deceptive practices, or misrepresentation.” Of course, the problem is that the science in this area is hotly contested, such that one doctor’s misinformation is another’s peer-reviewed conclusion. But the abortion lobby denies the veracity of the scientific studies it doesn’t like, and it’s easy to imagine a Democratic attorney general or district attorney bringing a case based on these new laws against what the abortionists tell him is “misinformation” from the pro-life centers.
Third, the abortionists are not entitled to make these decisions for women. Many pregnant women who choose to visit a pregnancy resource center know exactly what they’re doing and want to keep their babies or place them for adoption but know they will need some help along the way. Other women may be torn as they face this incredibly difficult decision, and enter a crisis pregnancy center looking to learn about options and alternatives. And for those who really want an abortion, they can always simply exit the center and find an abortion clinic on their maps app, no different from any consumer who enters a store only to find it doesn’t offer a specific service or product he wants.
The pregnancy resource centers are fighting back in court against these new laws, which create substantial financial, regulatory, and reputational hurdles for continuing with their life-saving work. Already one federal judge has suspended the Illinois law, calling it “painfully and blatantly a violation of the First Amendment.” That’s absolutely correct, and it should discourage other blue states from adopting these illegal impositions on pro-lifers’ free speech.
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