Supreme Court Sides With California Anti-Abortion Pregnancy Centers In a case that pitted the right to know against the right of free speech, the court ruled 5-4 that a California law aimed at "truth in advertising" likely violates the First Amendment.
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Supreme Court Sides With California Anti-Abortion Pregnancy Centers

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Supreme Court Sides With California Anti-Abortion Pregnancy Centers

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Supreme Court Sides With California Anti-Abortion Pregnancy Centers

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Abortion rights opponents are celebrating a victory in the U.S. Supreme Court today. In a 5-4 decision, the court sided with crisis pregnancy centers which counsel women against abortion. They argued that a California state law that required them to more fully disclose their purpose violated their free speech rights. NPR's Sarah McCammon has more.

SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: Outside the U.S. Supreme Court building, abortion rights advocates chanted stop lying to women as the justices handed down their decision.

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UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Chanting) Stop lying to women. Stop lying to women.

MCCAMMON: They were referring to anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centers, which often look from the outside a lot like medical offices. The Supreme Court reversed a lower court that upheld the California law which required the centers to be explicit about the fact that they don't provide a full range of reproductive health services like contraception and abortion. Abortion rights opponents are celebrating the decision as a victory for free speech. Penny Nance is president of Concerned Women for America.

PENNY NANCE: It's wrong for the government to force people of faith and people of a certain perspective to change their speech in order to bend to the will of government.

MCCAMMON: The law required non-licensed centers to post a sign or inform women in writing that they're not licensed medical facilities. Even more troubling for abortion opponents, it also required licensed centers that don't provide services like abortion to inform patients that they could get free or low-cost reproductive health care, including abortion, through state-run programs. Nance says that violated the organization's First Amendment rights.

NANCE: This is something that both pro-life people and pro-choice people should be able to celebrate together. This is about people being able to be true to their conscience and not being forced to change their speech.

MCCAMMON: But abortion rights advocates are not celebrating. Nancy Northup of the Center for Reproductive Rights says women deserve full information when they're facing difficult and time-sensitive decisions about a pregnancy.

NANCY NORTHUP: What they're actually doing is pretending to be health centers and luring women in on false pretenses. So the issue here is not their right to speak and say what they want to. The problem is that they hold themselves out in a deceptive way.

MCCAMMON: Helen Alvare, an abortion rights opponent and professor at the George Mason University Scalia Law School, notes California already has laws prohibiting the practice of medicine without a license.

HELEN ALVARE: Justice Thomas in the majority makes reference to this. So if you really wanted to ban bad behavior, says the majority, California has the laws to do that. And that's fine.

MCCAMMON: The Supreme Court said the law placed an undue burden on free speech and sent the case back to a lower court. The decision delivered by a majority that includes President Trump's appointee Justice Neil Gorsuch is a victory for social conservatives who have hoped that Trump's election will lead to a more conservative and anti-abortion judiciary.

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UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Chanting) Stop lying to women.

MCCAMMON: Outside the Supreme Court, Ilyse Hogue of NARAL Pro-Choice America said she believes abortion rights are at risk.

ILYSE HOGUE: We are in very dangerous territory when it comes to women's rights in the courts, and we will be paying very close attention moving forward as Donald Trump attempts to pack the courts with more like-minded ideological judges.

MCCAMMON: Hogue says the 5 to 4 decision underscores the importance of a single vote on the Supreme Court, an argument likely to continue galvanizing voters on both sides of the abortion debate. Sarah McCammon, NPR News, Washington.

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