By Greg Scott
Imagine a state law that forced Weight Watchers to direct its health-conscious clients to locations where they’d be hard-sold piles of discount bacon. Delicious as Baconalia sounds to me and maybe you, what kind of government would threaten a weight-loss center for merely not promoting the very thing (weight gain) it was created to prevent?
Well, such a state government did pass such a law. And Alliance Defending Freedom is in federal court challenging it. ADF filed a complaint in federal court in October 2015 against the state of California for passing an unconstitutional law that forces pro-life pregnancy centers to promote abortion.
The state law requires licensed medical centers that offer free, pro-life help to pregnant women to direct their patients and clients to state programs that offer free or discounted abortions. The pro-life centers, under the law, even have to give out the phone number for the abortion program!
And the case has generated serious national interest.
Once you get past an absurdly biased headline, you’ll find a well-balanced piece by outstanding New York Times reporter Erik Eckholm, who has previously covered ADF.
Right out of the gate:
“Free Pregnancy Testing,” reads the large sign in front of the East County Pregnancy Care Clinic, on a busy intersection of this impoverished city east of San Diego.
Inside the clinic, a woman will not only get a free pregnancy test, but she will also see a counselor to discuss her options. She will see models of fetuses at early stages of development, which show that “at week 12, you see a recognizable human,” said Josh McClure, the executive director of the clinic. If she is pregnant, she can get a free ultrasound and attend childbirth classes. If she gives birth, she may receive help with diapers and a car seat.
What she will not get from this center is advice on where to obtain an abortion.
Which should surprise no one. Why would a clinic, organized and operating specifically to help women and girls throughout their pregnancies in order that their babies be born, and which provides help to women and girls to care for their babies after they are born, promote abortion? And why would the state want to force pro-pregnancy, pro-baby clinics to promote abortion and punish them if they don’t?
Nonsensical, right? Josh McClure speaks sense:
The clinics argue that the law, which took effect in January, flagrantly violates their rights of free speech, and it appears that many of the dozens of licensed pregnancy centers in California are not yet complying.
“I don’t want to put up a sign telling you where you can go for an abortion,” said Mr. McClure of the clinic here, which is a plaintiff in one of several legal challenges. “The sign is not up here now because it’s unconstitutional.”
Clinic in El Cajon, California
Eckholm offers perspective on how the speech coercion campaign has gone so far for would be strong-armers:
Previous efforts in New York City and a few other places to require them to state, upfront, that they do not provide abortion referrals and make other disclosures have been largely struck down by federal courts.
In fact, ADF won cases in federal court in Maryland and New York, protecting pregnancy care centers from government speech coercion and penalties, and pro-life freedom advocates were successful in a Texas case decided in 2014.
Unfortunately and surprisingly, given the free speech wins in other parts of the country and long-cherished constitutional traditions, the pro-life centers in the current California case were denied an injunction that would protect their freedom from the unjust law while the litigation proceeds.
Eckholm’s piece follows earlier, similarly responsible NPR coverage of the same clinic, East County Pregnancy Care Clinic, of El Cajon, Calif.
ADF Legal Counsel Matt Bowman explains what’s at stake and why it’s important no matter where one may fall on the sanctity of life spectrum:
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. Pregnancy centers, which offer real help and hope to women, shouldn’t be punished by political allies of the abortion industry. Forcing pro-life centers to promote abortion and recite the government’s messages is a clear violation of their constitutionally protected First Amendment freedoms. Courts around the country have already rightly struck down these types of laws.
Proponents of such laws have exposed themselves not only as truly “anti-choice,” but also as advocates of unprecedented government intrusion into the hearts, minds, and souls of citizens.
Thankfully, the most elite media (so far) has been responsible in presenting both sides of this urgent, society-shaping story. This is a service to readers and listeners, who deserve the opportunity to decide whether they support or oppose government-enforced speech coercion of this sort.