In a 5-4 decision on Tuesday, the Supreme Court said that pregnancy centers established to persuade women to continue their pregnancies do not have to tell their clients about the availability of state-offered services, including abortion.

The court’s conservatives said a California law likely violates the First Amendment. It required what are called crisis pregnancy centers — they promise prenatal care and help when the child is born — to post notices or tell clients about the state’s service.

Justice Clarence Thomas wrote the decision, and Justice Stephen G. Breyer wrote the dissent for the court’s liberals. In his dissenting opinion, Breyer was joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.

The California law in question

The California legislature said some centers trick women into thinking they provide contraceptive services, including abortion, and sometimes delay a woman until it is too late to schedule an abortion.

The California law at issue requires centers that offer some medical services, such as ultrasound exams, to meet specific requirements and be licensed. They also must display or relay to a woman the state’s message:

A clinic that does not offer medical services is required to post a sign include in advertisements that it is “not licensed as a medical facility by the State of California and has no licensed medical provider who provides or directly supervises the provision of services.”

In National Institute of Family and Life Advocates v. Becerra, the state argued that its messages take no position on abortion. It makes sense to require the centers to tell patients of the state’s offered services because that it is when women are most in need of them, the state contends.

Crisis pregnancy centers’ stance

The centers said the California law violates their constitutional rights by forcing them to deliver a message that is antithetical to their mission of encouraging women to carry on their pregnancies rather than end them.

In their brief to the Supreme Court, the centers said that “forcing a pro-life group to advertise for abortion has to be unconstitutional.”

They said the law violates two “cardinal First Amendment principles: it targets disfavored speakers and compels them to deliver the state’s message. And it does so in the context of speech on a subject where there is profound moral and ideological disagreement.”

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