Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Pregnancy Clinics Get U.S. High Court Review in Speech Clash

Updated on
  • California law requires patients be told of abortion options
  • Court separately will consider political T-shirts at polls

The U.S. Supreme Court said it will consider the constitutionality of a California law that requires licensed pregnancy-counseling clinics to tell patients they might be eligible for free or discounted abortions.

Adding fuel to what is already a politically charged term, the justices agreed to hear free-speech arguments from clinics that say the law forces them to provide advertising for a procedure they oppose.

The case is one of three First Amendment clashes the high court agreed to hear Monday. The justices will consider guaranteeing people the right to wear political apparel when they go to the polls to vote. The third case involves a man who says he was arrested in retaliation for suing and politically criticizing his local government.

A federal appeals court refused to halt the California law, which officials say is designed to protect women and regulate the practice of medicine.

The law, which took effect in 2016, imposes separate requirements on licensed and unlicensed pregnancy clinics. Under the measure, unlicensed clinics that offer pregnancy testing or ultrasound imaging must tell clients if the facility doesn’t employ a licensed medical professional.

The law requires licensed clinics to tell patients that they can call a county health department to learn about state-funded prenatal, family planning and abortion services.

"The state of California now forces licensed centers to communicate the government’s message about state-funded abortions to everyone who walks in the door," argued an appeal by the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates, a nonprofit organization that says it has more than 110 pro-life pregnancy centers in California.

700,000 Pregnancies

California officials urged the court not to hear the case, saying more than half of the 700,000 pregnancies in the state every year are unintended.

"Many women cannot afford medical care on their own and are unaware of the public programs that are available to them," California Attorney General Xavier Becerra argued.

The clinics also contended that the law violates their religious rights, but the high court said it will consider only the free speech challenge.

The compelled-speech issue cuts both ways in the divisive abortion debate. In more conservative states, abortion providers have balked at requirements that they provide certain information to patients. In 2015, the Supreme Court refused to revive a North Carolina law that would have allowed abortions only after the woman was shown an ultrasound and given a detailed description of the fetus.

The fight could divide the high court along ideological lines, much like recent cases over birth-control coverage and religious rights. That would probably leave Justice Anthony Kennedy to cast the pivotal vote.

The Supreme Court’s calendar already includes a clash over the constitutional rights of merchants who don’t want to provide services for same-sex weddings.

The justices will hear arguments early next year and rule by June. The case is National Institute of Family and Life Advocates v. Becerra, 16-1140.

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