People For the American Way Foundation

Supreme Court Won’t Hear Case on Crisis Pregnancy Centers

The Supreme Court this morning declined to consider the appeals of anti-abortion "crisis pregnancy centers" that challenged on free speech grounds a New York City law requiring them to disclose pertinent information to women.

Conservatives have a number of weapons in their arsenal designed to limit or eliminate women's ability to make their own reproductive choices. In a 2013 report entitled Chipping Away at Choice: Five Growing Threats to Women's Healthcare Access and Autonomy, our affiliate PFAW discussed a number of tactics used by the far right, including the role played by crisis pregnancy centers:

Crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) are so-called "abortion alternative" sites run by private organizations that claim to provide support, information and medical care to pregnant women. CPCs use misleading tactics to draw women in: The centers advertise themselves as legitimate health centers, purposely distorting the truth to take advantage of vulnerable women. In reality, CPCs do not present women with a full range of reproductive health options; instead, they use false information about abortion to pressure women into continuing unwanted pregnancies.

In 2011, New York City passed a law to protect women from various methods of deception that lawmakers had seen occurring in the city, such as making women think that these centers were staffed by licensed medical professionals and provided access to or accurate information about all available options. Such practices include having women fill in medical history forms as they would at a medical office, or having staff wear medical scrubs. The City determined that such deceptive practices can have serious health and financial consequences for women. So the law requires pregnancy service centers to disclose if their services aren't provided or supervised by licensed medical professionals. This information must appear on their ads and within the facility itself. They must also make the same disclosure when asked to provide emergency contraception, abortion services, or prenatal care.

This disclosure law doesn't restrict the services the centers can offer, nor does it keep them from continuing to say the things they had been saying about contraception and abortion. They just have to disclose that their advice on critically important women's health issues is not coming from licensed medical professionals.

Several pregnancy centers sued, claiming this disclosure requirement compelled them to add unwanted messages to their speech and therefore violated their First Amendment rights. They also claimed that the law's definition of which types of facilities it covered was unconstitutional because it was too vague. A divided three-judge panel of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed and upheld this part of New York's law. (The panel unanimously struck down other two other provisions of the law on First Amendment grounds. These were not part of the appeal to the Supreme Court.)

The Supreme Court only accepts a few dozen cases a year. What happened here is typical: The final decision was made by a lower federal court, not the Supreme Court. That's why, just as with the Supreme Court, it matters a great deal who is nominated and confirmed to all of our nation's federal courts.