National Institute of Family and Life Advocates v. Becerra
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Government has no right to silence one side of any debate, let alone one as deeply important to people on all sides as abortion. But in 2015, California enacted the Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care, and Transparency (FACT) Act, which targeted the speech of pregnancy centers that do not recommend or refer for abortion services. The FACT Act forced pro-life pregnancy centers like those supported by the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA) to advertise messaging that violates their religious beliefs and undermines their mission to offer life-affirming care to women and children. After losses in both the district court and at the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, NIFLA won a decisive victory at the U.S. Supreme Court. On June 26, 2018, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 protecting pro-life pregnancy centers’ right to serve women and children according to their religious mission.
A mission to provide essential care
For over twenty years, the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA) has provided education and training to hundreds of pregnancy clinics across the country. Driven by faith, NIFLA provides essential legal resources and counsel to clinics that share their commitment to life-affirming support for vulnerable women and their families.
Free speech—unless the government favors the other side
In 2015, California enacted the FACT Act, joining a number of other state and local governments that have passed laws to target pregnancy centers that do not recommend or refer for abortion services. The FACT Act requires licensed pregnancy centers, which offer free services to pregnant women, to post in their waiting rooms a disclosure explaining that the state of California provides free or low-cost abortion and contraception services. This licensed disclosure must also include a phone number for a county office that refers women to clinics that provide abortion services. Under the law, other pregnancy centers, too, would have to post burdensome disclosures, not only on site but in all of their advertisements. The FACT Act thus would have forced NIFLA centers to advertise messaging that violates their deeply held beliefs and undermines their mission to offer life-affirming care to women and children.
NIFLA challenged the FACT Act in court. After losses in the district court in January 2016 and at the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in December 2016, NIFLA appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which agreed to hear the case. In January 2018, Becket filed a friend-of-the court brief on behalf of Support Circle, supporting NIFLA and defending their right to continue to serve women and children according to their religious mission.
Victory for free speech
The Supreme Court heard the case in March 2018. During oral argument, California admitted to the Court that some applications of the law were unconstitutional, and the Justices spent much of the argument focusing on the law’s obvious attempt to target pro-life clinics. On June 26, 2018, the Court ruled 5-4 protecting pregnancy centers’ right to serve women and children according to their religious mission. NIFLA was represented by Alliance Defending Freedom.
The ruling affirms that the First Amendment protects individuals that may hold viewpoints different from those of the government. On issues as deeply important as abortion, it is vital that the government does not silence one side of the debate.
Importance to religious liberty
- Free speech: The First Amendment protects speakers from being punished for advancing viewpoints not shared by the government. On issues as divisive as abortion, it is vital that the government does not silence one side of the debate.
- Public square: Private organizations, including those with a religious foundation, must be free to operate in the public square according to their beliefs.