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Pregnancy centers concerned about Supreme Court case

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In 2013, California passed a law requiring pregnancy resource centers to post notices about where their clients could get an abortion. Nonmedical centers are compelled to add a lengthy statement disclosing their nonmedical status in all their advertisements. 

Advocates for California pregnancy centers argued at the Supreme Court to overturn the Reproductive FACT Act March 20 while pro-life and pro-choice supporters rallied on the steps outside that cold, rainy morning.

Pro-lifers held signs with a cartoon baby sucking on a pacifier that read, “Don’t plug free speech” and “Give free speech life.” Pro-choicers held signs, saying, “Patients want care not coercion.” A few painted their black umbrellas with the words, “#EndTheLies,” in silver ink.

Matthew Erikson, a high schooler from Holy Trinity Church in Gainesville, came to the court with friends from the church’s pro-life group. “I mostly came in the beginning because I care about women but as I’ve been out here hearing (pro-choicers) speak, I’ve been (stunned),” he said. “Representing the pro-life movement is really important to me.”

“(This is like a) state forcing nutritionists to hang signs promoting fast-food chains in their offices,” the Alliance Defending Freedom, the firm representing NIFLA, said in a statement. “The U.S. Supreme Court should not allow the government to target and punish anyone because the government disagrees with their message.”

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops filed an amicus brief on behalf of NIFLA, stating, “If upheld by (the Supreme Court), the Ninth Circuit’s decision would allow governments of all stripes to tell such organizations ‘what they must say.’ ”

“Pro-life pregnancy care centers embody everything that is right and good in our nation: generosity, compassion and love that is offered to support both mother and child,” said New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, chair of the USCCB committee on pro-life activities. “But rather than applauding and encouraging the selfless and life-affirming work of these centers, some governments want to force them to provide free advertising for the violent act of abortion in direct violation of their pro-life convictions and the First Amendment. We pray that the Court will do the right thing and uphold our fundamental right to free speech when it decides this case.”

If the court upholds the law, it will affect only California — for now. But Executive Director Leanna Baumer of Assist Pregnancy Center in Annandale believes other states are following the case and could pass similar laws if the court sides with California. 

“In 2011, the Virginia legislature tried to bring pregnancy resource centers under state regulatory control,” she said. “From our perspective here in Virginia, we’re worried that this would threaten the existence of pregnancy centers like ours.”

“This is anathema to everything we at A Woman’s Choice stand for,” said Tessy Trissell, executive director of A Woman’s Choice in Herndon and Falls Church, and a parishioner of St. Catherine of Siena Church in Great Falls. “I believe this is not only a free speech case but one involving religious freedom as well.”

Pregnancy centers are known for encouraging abortion-minded women to parent or place their babies up for adoption, and that often happens. Trissell said that last year, 34 babies were born as a result of the support of A Woman’s Choice. But many other clients come to the centers knowing they want to keep their babies, but need a little help. 

According to NIFLA, CareNet and Heartbeat International — two other pregnancy resource center umbrella organizations — in Virginia alone pregnancy resource centers provided $2.8 million in free services to women. 

“Last year, we served women from 57 countries — newly arrived refugees and immigrants. We’re their first entry into the community and we’re able to help them build relationships. They value our services,” said Baumer. “There is a real cost to our communities in threatening centers like Assist — ultimately increased isolation and lack of support for women.”

The Supreme Court will release its decision for all cases, including NIFLA v. Becerra, at the end of its term, usually in June. 

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2018