Cathy Ruse is Senior Fellow and Director of the Center for Human Dignity at Family Research Council. Patrina Mosley is the Director of Life, Culture and Women's Advocacy at Family Research Council. This article appeared in The Washington Examiner on March 20, 2018.
Today, the Supreme Court hears its second case this term on compelled speech in National Institute of Family and Life Advocates v. Becerra. In December, Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission addressed a similar free speech question.
Here, the question is whether the state of California can force pro-life pregnancy help centers to advertise for state-sponsored abortions. If it sounds bizarre to you that anyone would think it could, that’s a good sign you possess a healthy American appreciation for freedom. Unfortunately, lawmakers in Sacramento don’t share your appreciation.
In 2015 Democrats in the California statehouse passed the “ Reproductive FACT Act” on a strict party-line vote. Governor Jerry Brown signed it into law. The law forces licensed pro-life medical centers to display a message to all clients about how they can obtain a “free or low-cost…abortion” from a government agency.
It forces non-medical pregnancy centers to announce that they are not medical facilities in 48-point type, in up to 13 different languages.
As a society, shouldn’t we support pregnant women who choose to go to a life-affirming pregnancy center?
By their own admission, these officials created this law to target pro-life pregnancy centers because they are pro-life. “Discouraging abortion” is an “unfortunate” message, they said in one legislative committee report. And so they crafted a law forcing the centers to speak their message -– a message about “free or low-cost” government-sponsored abortion.
The goal of a life-affirming pregnancy center is to help a woman escape the abortion mentality; to give her resources to choose life for her child, to make an adoption plan, or to receive practical resources to care for her child, all at no cost to her.
In 2013, The New York Times reported that nationally, pro-life pregnancy centers outnumbered abortion facilities, 2,500 to around 1,800 in all. In 2015 — in two short years — the number of pregnancy help centers rose to 4,000, compared to just 739 abortion facilities.
That’s not all. Last year, we witnessed the lowest abortion rate in the United States since 1975.
Planned Parenthood, the largest abortion provider in the U.S., has revenues of well over a billion dollars annually and gets more than half a billion dollars from taxpayers every year. They have plenty of money to get out their pro-abortion message in any venue they want.
In contrast, approximately half of pregnancy care centers only bring in revenue of $125,000 or less per year. Planned Parenthood contributes millions of dollars to Democratic candidates every election, including donations that California Attorney General Xavier Becerra has happily received.
The issue of abortion has a way of clouding people’s thinking. What if government officials forced private entities to advertise against their interests? What if it made soccer leagues promote the local football club, or a vegan grocer to post ads for the local butcher shop? Everyone would agree that that’s not fair.
What if it came to light that the politicians behind the law were football fans or meat lovers who view veganism as unhealthy. That would be even more outrageous.
Is competition for the hearts and minds of young people really that much different? California lawmakers are trying to make that competition unfair by overriding the First Amendment, forcing private entities to speak messages against their beliefs, and punishing them if don’t comply. This should be of grave concern to all Americans, whatever their views on abortion.
If the government has the right to compel speech from these centers, what will stop the government from targeting you next for what you believe?