Supreme Court takes up California abortion law

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Two other clinics sued as well but the USA 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the law previous year.

The California law generated lawsuits nearly immediately, with several pregnancy centers suing the state and asking for the law to be struck down, as NPR's Kelly McEvers reported in the fall of 2015.

"California has a substantial interest in the health of its citizens, including ensuring that its citizens have access to and adequate information about constitutionally protected medical services like abortion", Judge Dorothy W. Nelson wrote for the panel in upholding the requirement that licensed clinics post a notice about abortion.

National Institute of Family and Life Advocates v. Becerra [cert. petition, pdf] challenges California's Reproductive FACT Act [text], which requires pregnancy resource centers to post notices that encourage women to contact the state to receive information on free or low-priced abortions.

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A federal appeals court in New York struck down similar provisions of a New York City ordinance, although it upheld the requirement for unlicensed centers to say that they lack a license. "And given the Legislature's findings regarding the existence of" the centers, "which often present misleading information to women about reproductive medical services, California's interest in presenting accurate information about the licensing status of individual clinics is particularly compelling".

The National Institute of Family and Life Advocates, which says it represents 110 centers, sued to block the law, calling it "compelled speech" that violates the 1st Amendment.

But the justices said in an order issued Monday that they would only consider the free speech clause issue, setting the stage for a significant ruling on compelled speech: to what extent can the government require people to convey speech with which they disagree.

The US Supreme Court [official website] granted certiorari in three cases [order list, PDF] Monday, including two First Amendment cases and a question of whether probable cause defeats a retaliatory-arrest claim. In November 2010, the alliance's executive director Andrew Cilek was prevented from voting because he was wearing a Tea Party shirt, as well as a button promoting efforts to require voters to show photo ID.

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He and others challenged the law on free speech grounds, saying that the government may not bar apparel that merely conveyed a philosophy rather than an endorsement of a particular candidate, party or ballot measure. Lawyers for the Arizona-based Alliance Defending Freedom appealed both cases to the Supreme Court.

The challengers in the Minnesota case argued that the state's law is broader, crossing a constitutional line.

The case presents a clash between the state's power to regulate the medical profession and the Constitution's protection for the freedom of speech.

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