By Sr Bernadette Mary Reis, fsp
On Tuesday the Chairman of the US Bishops’ Pro-Life Committee, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, issued a statement as the US Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the NIFLA v. Becerra case. In the Statement the US Bishops praise the work of pro-life pregnancy centers and defend their First Amendment right to free speech. Here is the full text of the US Bishops’ statement.
US Bishops’ Statement
"Pro-life pregnancy care centers embody everything that is right and good in our nation: generosity, compassion and love that is offered to support both mother and child. But rather than applauding and encouraging the selfless and life-affirming work of these centers, some governments want to force them to provide free advertising for the violent act of abortion in direct violation of their pro-life convictions and the First Amendment. The United States Supreme Court cannot let this happen. We pray that the Court will do the right thing and uphold our fundamental right to free speech when it decides this case."
What’s at issue?
In 2015, the State of California passed a law mandating that all pregnancy centers post information in their facilities that “California has public programs that provide immediate free or low-cost access to comprehensive family planning services, prenatal care and abortion for eligible women.” Lawsuits were filed immediately against the State of California arguing that the issue is not abortion, but free speech.
Whose Free Speech argument is right?
The primary argument is that it is unjust for the government to force anyone to provide a message that they do not agree with. In addition, the law targets pregnancy centers that do not offer abortions. Under this law, they are forced to advertise services they do not provide; whereas the law does not require pregnancy centers that provide abortions to do the same—that is, to make information available to their clients regarding alternatives to abortion provided by other centers.
Proponents of the law, instead, say that the State has the right to regulate “professional free speech”, and that women seeking pregnancy counseling have the right to be told about every option so that an informed decision can be made.
Before the Supreme Court
After losing its case in the lower courts, the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates presented the case to the US Supreme Court. In November, 2017, the Court agreed to hear the case from the perspective of the free speech argument. The Supreme Court heard oral arguments on Tuesday and a ruling is expected around June.