ERLC defends pro-life speech in latest SCOTUS brief

March 22, 2018

Imagine a federal appeals court ruling that the government has the right to prohibit a nonprofit pregnancy resource center for advertising its pregnancy testing, ultrasounds, and counseling to women considering abortion.

This is the reality for First Resort, Inc., a pregnancy resource center targeted by the City of San Francisco for buying Google Ads to advertise its services to any search results for “abortion in San Francisco.” Last June, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that by advertising through Google Ads, First Resort violated a city ordinance making it unlawful for a “limited services pregnancy center” to make statements about its services that were “untrue or misleading, whether by statement or omission.”

What’s the problem? First, nothing in First Resort’s ad was untrue or misleading.  The center was simply advertising its services, which primarily help women considering abortion. Secondly, by prohibiting the nonprofit from advertising its services, the city is blatantly violating the First Amendment.  

Now, First Resort has appealed the Ninth Circuit’s decision to the Supreme Court, and the ERLC is weighing in. Earlier this month, we filed our second pro-life amicus brief this year at the Supreme Court of the United States, advocating that the Supreme Court protect the First Amendment and the U.S. Constitution by striking down this patently unconstitutional law.

The ERLC joined the Christian Legal Society, the Institutional Religious Freedom Alliance, the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, and Democrats for Life in a friend-of-the-court brief defending the First Amendment free speech and free exercise rights of pregnancy resource centers and other religious nonprofits serving those in need.

San Francisco claims that it is only regulating “false” or “misleading” speech, but the facts of this case prove that an overly broad commercial speech regulation allows hostile governments to target organizations with religious or ideological perspectives. In this case, it’s San Francisco targeting pro-life pregnancy resource centers. In other states, it could be governments targeting immigrant or refugee-services centers, food pantries, or homeless shelters.

As our brief states,

Today it is pro-life pregnancy counseling centers that hostile government officials aim to restrict, in San Francisco and elsewhere. Tomorrow it may be immigrant or refugee-services centers in states or localities hostile to immigration, or food pantries or homeless shelters in comfortable suburban neighborhoods. In either case, government may not use the “commercial speech” label to distort or suppress speech by organizations that provide free services from motives that are primarily ideological and only tangentially commercial.

It’s been a busy month for the ERLC at the Supreme Court. Earlier this week, another major pro-life Supreme Court case (NIFLA v. Becerra) had oral arguments. We filed a brief in January in that case. Go here to read more and sign up for updates about our pro-life advocacy at the Supreme Court, on Capitol Hill, and around the country.

Palmer Williams

Palmer Williams serves as General Counsel and Senior Policy Advisor for the ERLC.  Palmer specializes in legal and policy analysis related to international human rights, sanctity of life, and government affairs. As a licensed attorney specializing in international law, she has extensive experience advocating for human rights on the international stage, … Read More