On Tuesday, the Supreme Court will hear one of the most interesting cases this term—and that’s saying something. National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA) v. Becerra is about two controversial ideas: abortion and free speech.
The California Reproductive FACT Act requires pregnancy clinics to advertise the availability and location of abortion facilities. The FACT Act does not require abortion facilities to provide information to women seeking abortions about the availability and location of pregnancy help centers. The justices will analyze whether these mandates violate the free speech clause in the First Amendment.
While this is a free speech case cloaked in the abortion issue, to shed light on how important pregnancy clinics are to families in need, The Catholic Association interviewed 13 women about how their lives changed because of the work of the kind of clinics the Reproductive FACT Act discriminates against. TCA presented this to the Supreme Court as an amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief.
The brief is powerful and emotional. While these women’s stories say little about the legal question at hand, together they underline the importance to women of a warm environment in which to grapple with a difficult pregnancy.
At first it might seem strange to read an entire brief in a free speech case on pregnancy resource centers, but one of the reasons for the FACT Act is allegations that pregnancy resource centers and medical clinics employ “intentionally deceptive advertising and counseling practices [that] often confuse, misinform, and even intimidate women from making fully-informed, time sensitive decisions about critical health care.”
Contrary to the state’s unsupported allegations, the women profiled in the TCA brief say they “experienced valuable and informative care.” They “voluntarily came forward to publicly share a delicate and private part of their lives regarding the real and lasting support that pregnancy resource centers and medical clinics throughout the country offer women and their families. It’s obvious these women feel as though these centers and clinics are important places that offer women the chance to make an informed choice and improve the circumstances of their lives and the lives of their children.”
Heartbreaking and Heartwarming Stories
The TCA brief tells story after story of women in all walks of life—rich, poor, clean, addicted—who share one thing: uncertainty about pregnancy. For example, Angela Jozwicki turned to drugs at 14 years old. At 22, she discovered she was pregnant.
“I knew in my heart that a baby would stop me from having drugs, but I wasn’t ready,” she writes. Angela had an abortion with that child. Later, she became pregnant again. Despite struggling with addiction and an unexpected pregnancy, Angela reached out to Soundview Pregnancy Services in Centereach, New York.
They showed her an ultrasound of her baby and, when she decided to go through with the pregnancy, they helped her find financial assistance and offered other forms of aid and encouragement. Angela credits the center with giving her “support so that I don’t turn back to drugs.”
When 26 year-old Ebony Harris became aware she was unexpectedly pregnant, she says she resolved to abort her baby without telling anyone. Uncertain about how a baby would affect her life plans, she scheduled the abortion but left the abortion facility beforehand, feeling confused. The abortion center staff seemed cold and offered little information beyond an outline of the procedure. She also felt pressured into an abortion there. One staff member told Ebony, “The cost of raising the child will be far more expensive than the cost of an abortion.” This abortion center also did not tell Ebony about any organizations that would offer alternatives.
Ebony finally connected with the Greater Baltimore Center for Pregnancy Concerns after hearing about them on the radio, and was surprised to receive kindness, encouragement, and a bevy of information, not just “pro-life propaganda.” The center “offered many other services, all free of charge, including sonograms, pregnancy tests, prenatal classes, post-natal classes, and material support such as diapers, formula, clothes, and toys.”
According to Ebony, the center staff member who helped her “was warm, gentle, and supportive.” Ebony decided to have her baby, and the center followed through with deliveries of “baby clothes, diapers, wipes, food, toys, and even a stroller.” Ebony now “credits the center with giving her an authentic and informed choice during a desperate moment in her life and for helping her to grow into an accomplished and empowered woman.”
Andrea Picciotti, a TCA lawyer and primary author of the brief, told me via e-mail, “Regardless of where a woman lived, her race, age, or education, staff at pregnancy centers treated her with compassion and care—consistent with her dignity as a woman and mother-to-be. Their care and support helped take away a ‘crisis’ facing a woman so that she could make positive life-affirming choices.”
What This Means for the NIFLA Case
To be sure, the core of the NIFLA case is another important compelled speech case. But since this one happens to be cloaked in the also-controversial issue of abortion, a brief like this helps shed light on the California FACT Act that sparked this case. Rather than employing “intentionally deceptive advertising and counseling practices [that] often confuse, misinform, and even intimidate women,” these 13 women told an entirely different narrative.
Countless volunteers and staff, who are primarily women, operate more than 2,000 pregnancy resource centers and medical clinics across the United States. In California alone, there are about 200 clinics similar to the ones these women described. They offer alternatives to abortion and post-abortion counseling, and tangible resources for moms who give birth and choose to raise their babies or adoption.
As the TCA brief says, “Rather than supporting and promoting these ‘neighbor-helping-neighbor efforts, the state of California has enacted a law that purposefully targets pregnancy centers with burdensome requirements that go directly against their mission.” Perhaps this humanity of these stories will help others realize while there is free speech at stake, there are people at stake as well.