The Supreme Court sided with California’s pro-life crisis pregnancy centers on June 26, voting to overturn a state law that mandated them to counsel women about abortion.
Conservative justices trumped the liberal bench 5-4, arguing that the California law violates the First Amendment. They also questioned the legitimacy of similar laws in Hawaii and Illinois.
The California law imposed a penalty on pregnancy counseling centers that did not prominently post information about abortion and contraception. The centers would be fined $500 for a first offense and $1,000 for each subsequent offense.
In a concurring opinion (pdf), Justice Anthony Kennedy stated that the Congress ratified the First Amendment in 1791 with knowledge of the history of authoritarian governments. Since then, authoritarian regimes have been relentless in their attempts to stifle free speech, Kennedy wrote.
“Governments must not be allowed to force persons to express a message contrary to their deepest convictions. Freedom of speech secures freedom of thought and belief. This law imperils those liberties,” Kennedy wrote.
Backers of the California statute argued that it was needed to ensure that women are aware of the options available to them. Pro-life groups said that the law violated their right to free speech.
Conservative justices Clarence Thomas, John Roberts, Anthony Kennedy, Samuel Alito, and Neil Gorsuch voted to overturn the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision that upheld the California law. The Ninth Circuit ruled that the state can regulate “professional” free speech and that the statute served a public interest.
Liberal justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, and Stephen Breyer dissented.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the nation’s top law enforcement officer, applauded the court’s decision.
“We are pleased that today’s decision protects Americans’ freedom of speech,” Sessions said in a statement. “Speakers should not be forced by their government to promote a message with which they disagree, and pro-life pregnancy centers in California should not be forced to advertise abortion and undermine the very reason they exist.”
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