Remember the days when Democratic politicians at least pretended that, although they wanted abortions to be “safe and legal,” they also wanted them to be “rare”? Those days are long gone, and California lawmakers, in particular, are eager to pass measures that seem designed to make these life-ending “procedures” as plentiful as possible.
They’re so eager to do that that they’re willing to undermine our free-speech rights, but fortunately, the U.S. Supreme Court is going to look at the state’s recent law requiring pro-life crisis pregnancy clinics to provide their clients with pro-abortion information.
The rarest things I’ve ever seen in the Legislature are laws that deregulate anything, let alone health-care rules or land-use regulations. But in 2013 Gov. Jerry Brown signed two new laws — one that allows non-physicians to perform abortions, and another that changed building codes to allow abortion clinics to qualify as primary-care facilities. The obvious goal of the Planned Parenthood-backed bills was to make it easier for providers to set up shop.
But the most wretched abortion-related law the governor signed is the 2015 California Reproductive FACT (Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care and Transparency) Act, sponsored by now-Sen. Kamala Harris and the National Abortion Rights Action League’s California affiliate. It sets precedent far beyond the area of abortion, which is why it will reach the high court. It’s one of three free-speech related cases the court will review. The other two are related to political speech and emanate from disputes in Minnesota and Florida.
The California law is a direct attack on privately funded crisis pregnancy centers that help unwed mothers bring their pregnancies to term. The act requires these counseling centers to post this sizable notice at their clinics: “California has public programs that provide immediate free or low-cost access to comprehensive family planning services (including all FDA-approved methods of contraception), prenatal care, and abortion for eligible women. To determine whether you qualify, contact the county social services office at (insert the telephone number).”
Abortions — even publicly funded ones — are widely available throughout California. NARAL gives the state its highest grade for the availability of abortion clinics. There are no serious efforts to roll back any of the state’s pro-abortion rules or subsidies. If abortion supporters were serious about choice, why would they object to young people choosing to carry their children to term? Why should they care if private charities provide another choice?
We know the answer, of course. As Madeleine Schwartz wrote for FiveThirtyEight last year, “Abortion providers in more liberal states may not have sustained the kind of legislative targeting being tracked in places such as Indiana or Arkansas. But the combination of the economic difficulties of operating a clinic, a generally hostile atmosphere and declining demand (italics added) means that many clinics are shutting down.” The article quoted the head of a group of Northern California abortion clinics saying, “We are a dying breed.” May it be so.
It’s chilling to think about the implications of the FACT Act. “The state, rather than using countless alternative ways to communicate its message, including its own powerful voice, instead compels only licensed facilities that help women consider alternatives to abortion to express the government’s message regarding how to obtain abortions paid for by the state,” according to the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates’ filing, as quoted in the Washington Post.
My wife and I support a local pro-life pregnancy center, where religious people offer compassionate care for unwed mothers. These centers are funded by private donations and rely on volunteers. There’s nothing coercive. People seek them out. Their advertising doesn’t hide their purpose. Unlike abortion clinics, they’re not trying to sell a costly “service.” They’re trying to save lives.
Yet the state of California insists that they also counsel their clients on how to get a procedure that violates their deepest principles. Ironically, pro-abortion groups have freaked out at laws that require abortion clinics to show women their ultrasound before having a “procedure,” so we know they only want to compel certain types of speech.
If its advocates don’t actually prefer that women choose the abortion option over bringing the child to term, then why are they using the government to force pro-life centers to provide abortion information? Why do they use such nasty rhetoric when referring to these honorable charities?
A Riverside County Superior Court judge last month sided with one clinic challenging the FACT Act by calling it a violation of “individual freedom of mind” and noting that the government has plenty of avenues to publicize its message — without violating the rights of individuals. That seems obvious, but NARAL blasted the decision, noting: “The anti-choice groups behind these lawsuits are hell-bent on chipping away at our reproductive freedom and are using the courts to roll back historic protections for women and our families.”
The real “historic” protections are the ones actually in the Constitution, such as the First Amendment. Forcing pro-life centers to provide pro-abortion messages would be like forcing this publication to print pro-Hillary Clinton editorials. It’s outrageous and fortunate that the Supreme Court will have a chance to overturn it. California lawmakers will still have plenty of other ways to keep abortion safe, legal, and plentiful without violating our free-speech rights.
Steven Greenhut is Western region director for the R Street Institute. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.