When it comes to the battle for life, the Montana Family Foundation is there, whether it’s in the legislature, the courts, the court of public opinion, or even in far-off foreign lands such as a strange place called California.
This time it’s NIFLA v. Becerra, a battle that started in 2015 and culminated this week in a hearing before the United States Supreme Court. It all began when California’s governor and legislature teamed up to pass Assembly Bill 775 in the 2015 legislative session. Deemed the most egregious anti-free speech bill ever to see the light of day, the bill basically did two things: First, it required all crisis pregnancy centers in the state of California to advertise free and low-cost abortions. You heard that right. The law forced pro-life pregnancy centers to promote the horrific practice they were actually organized to fight against.
The second half of the bill forced pro-life pregnancy centers to make the abortion message just as large and clear in their own advertising as their pro-life message. For example, a pro-life pregnancy center billboard might have a simple message in large letters, something like “Pregnant? We can help.” Under California’s law, they were also required to print a 29-word, pro-abortion disclaimer in the same size lettering as their pro-life message and do it at the pregnancy center’s own expense.
Not only is the compelled speech component an affront to the First Amendment, it’s also highly impractical. It would render things like billboard advertising useless and cost prohibitive, some would argue, by design. For California’s 200 crisis pregnancy centers, it was a bridge too far. A lawsuit was filed, and on January 15th of this year, the Montana Family Foundation joined an amicus brief with 40 other family policy councils. We argued that this case was not unlike the Masterpiece cake case that the Supreme Court heard on December 5th. In that case, a Christian baker in Colorado was forced to decorate a wedding cake with a pro same-sex marriage message, something that his deeply-held religious beliefs would not allow him to do. Ironically, during oral arguments in that case, Justice Kennedy pointed out that tolerance is essential in a free society, and that tolerance is most meaningful when it’s mutual.
We also pointed the Court to its own precedent. In a similar case, a member of the Jehovah Witness Church refused to put a New Hampshire license plate on his car because he objected to the state’s motto, which was also on the plate. It read, “Live Free or Die,” a message that the plaintiff argued directly contradicted his religious beliefs. The Court agreed saying the plaintiff could not be forced to turn his vehicle into, in effect, a mobile billboard with a state-approved message that he found morally, ethically, religiously and politically abhorrent.
It’s our contention that the same argument can be made in the California case. Crisis pregnancy centers are formed and staffed by people who believe strongly in the God-given right-to-life from conception until natural death. To force them to promote abortion places them in an ethical and moral vice between the God of the universe and a secular humanist state, a place that no citizen of the United States should ever be forced to be.