Supreme Court Blocks California Pregnancy-Clinic Disclosure Law

(Bloomberg) -- A divided U.S. Supreme Court blocked a California law that imposed disclosure requirements on anti-abortion pregnancy centers, saying the measure probably violates the clinics’ speech rights.

Under the measure, which took effect in 2016, licensed pregnancy centers have to tell patients they can call a county health department to learn about state-funded prenatal, family planning and abortion services.

The law imposes separate requirements on centers that aren’t licensed as medical facilities but still offer pregnancy testing or ultrasound imaging. Those centers are required to post prominent notices on-site and in any advertisements -- potentially in 13 languages -- to say they don’t have a medical professional on staff.

The vote was 5-4 along ideological lines.

The case was in some ways a proxy for the broader fight over the divisive abortion issue. Reproductive-rights groups cast the California law as necessary to protect women from being duped by clinics that hold themselves out as full-service pregnancy centers.

Justice Clarence Thomas wrote for the court, saying, "California cannot co-opt the licensed facilities to deliver its message for it."

"An unlicensed facility that says ‘Choose Life’ would have to surround that two-word statement with a 29-word statement from the government," Thomas wrote. "In this way, the unlicensed notice drowns out the facility’s own message."

Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan dissented.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions praised the decision, saying 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."

The challengers included the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates, a nonprofit organization that says it represents more than 110 pro-life pregnancy centers in California and more than 1,400 around the country. Two San Diego-area clinics also pressed the case, saying they were being forced to advertise a procedure they abhor.

The case is National Institute of Family and Life Advocates v. Becerra, 16-1140.

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