The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against a coalition of pro-life pregnancy centers on Friday, upholding a California law that requires them to refer patients to publicly funded contraception and abortion services, even if doing so violates their moral and religious beliefs.
The decision upheld a lower court ruling saying California law AB 775, or the FACT Act, does not violate the First Amendment rights of the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates and two other faith-based nonprofits.
Matt Bowman, senior counsel at the Alliance Defending Freedom, which represents the appellants, called the decision a “clear violation” of constitutionally protected rights to freedom of speech and religious expression.
“It’s bad enough if the government tells you what you can’t say, but a law that tells you what you must say—under threat of severe punishment—is even more unjust and dangerous,” Mr. Bowman said in a statement. “In this case, political allies of abortionists are seeking to punish pro-life pregnancy centers, which offer real hope and help to women.”
“Forcing these centers to promote abortion and recite the government’s preferred views is a clear violation of their constitutionally protected First Amendment freedoms,” he continued. “That’s why other courts around the country have halted these kinds of measures and why we will be discussing the possibility of appeal with our clients.”
The California legislature said AB 775 is a response to pro-life crisis pregnancy centers that “pose as full-service women’s health clinics, but aim to discourage and prevent women from seeking abortions.”
Such centers, the California Assembly said, “interfere with women’s ability to be fully informed and exercise their reproductive rights.”
The 9th Circuit denied the appellants’ request for a preliminary injunction, concluding that even though the regulation is “content-based” in nature, it “does not discriminate based on viewpoint.”
“We reject Appeallants’ argument that they are entitled to a preliminary injunction based on their free speech claims,” the court said. “The Act is a content-based regulation that does not discriminate based on viewpoint.”