The Supreme Court decided on Tuesday that it’s more important to protect anti-abortion health centers than pregnant women.
The court reversed a California law requiring “crisis pregnancy centers” to inform women about state-funded abortions and contraceptive services. The decision was 5–4, with the court’s conservative justices in the majority, on the basis of protecting First Amendment rights.
Crisis pregnancy centers are typically faith-based organizations that counsel women against having abortions. There are more than 2,700 of these centers in America, spread across both conservative and liberal states.
To be fair, some of these centers really do try to help pregnant women by providing free counseling and financial support. But the California state legislature found that around 200 centers in the state use deceptive advertising and counseling methods to misinform women. Centers have been found to show women disturbing videos of second trimester abortions, lie about how far along they are in their pregnancy, and claim that an abortion can cause a woman to “bleed out and fall into a coma.”
California’s law required pregnancy centers to post notices about state-funded abortion and contraceptive services. It also required them to inform women that the centers are not medical facilities.
The court argued that this represents an unconstitutional infringement on freedom of speech, and that the state can’t tell anti-abortionists to talk about abortions. Justice Anthony Kennedy even went as far as to say California is like a “relentless authoritarian regime” that attempts to stifle free speech.
But all kinds of other businesses, even car repair shops and restaurants, are required to be honest about the services they provide. Doctors must tell women that their risk of suicide, breast cancer, and depression may increase if they get an abortion, even if they don’t think there’s enough medical proof to support the claim. Planned Parenthood also asks women to sign a disclosure and consent form that highlights these risks. Why should anti-abortion, fake “clinics” be treated differently?
In his dissent, Justice Stephen Breyer echoed this sentiment:
“if a State can lawfully require a doctor to tell a woman seeking an abortion about adoption services, why should it not be able, as here, to require a medical counselor to tell a woman seeking prenatal care or other reproductive healthcare about childbirth and abortion services?”
He went on to say that the decision seems to assume that professional “speech about abortion is special, that it involves in this case not only professional medical matters, but also views based on deeply held religious and moral beliefs about the nature of the practice.”
It seems that for Justice Kennedy, it’s not authoritarianism to require doctors to talk about the alleged “risks” of abortion even if they don’t believe it to be true, but it’s unlawful to require religious people to speak against their anti-abortion beliefs.