In The Well and the Shallows, G.K. Chesterton clearly discerned the eugenic motivation that spawned the birth control movement of his day. Chesterton wrote that “birth control” was an intentional misnomer, in that the “proceeding . . . does not control any birth. It only makes sure there shall never be any birth to control.”
Of course, Chesterton knew that such deliberate obfuscation was exactly the point. Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood, wrote in 1921 that the entire birth control project was animated by a philosophy designed to limit the propagation of “the inferior classes,” including the “mentally and physically defective.” Is it any wonder that proponents of such a program chose the term “birth control” rather than some other, more honest descriptor? The more accurate phrase, “birth prevention,” would have been truthful, but it also would have been “very bad advertising,” in Chesterton’s estimation.
Not surprisingly, Planned Parenthood has taken up its founder’s penchant for linguistic legerdemain on the subject of abortion. It bills itself as “pro-choice,” not because it favors freedom, but rather because the frequent result of being “pro-choice” winds up terminating the life of a child. Calling itself “pro-abortion,” “pro-termination,” or “pro-death” would be very bad advertising indeed. So Planned Parenthood positions itself as perfectly content to kindly allow pro-life groups to assist women in bringing their children to term.
But the reality (which would not have surprised Chesterton) is quite the opposite. For years now, Planned Parenthood has been encouraging and advising all-too-eager state and local municipalities to pass laws compelling pregnancy resource centers—which exist to protect unborn life and support needy women and their families—to advertise for government-funded abortions. Yes, Planned Parenthood, the supposed paragon of free choice, has waged a deliberate campaign to force pro-life organizations to violate their very reason for being by requiring them to encourage and facilitate abortions. It turns out that, in the eyes of Planned Parenthood, the one type of organization that is not free to choose is the one that defends unborn life and works to make abortion unnecessary and obsolete.
This campaign by Planned Parenthood is the functional equivalent of requiring the Anti-Defamation League to refer inquirers to a site where they can hear defamatory statements about the “Jewish occupation of Palestine,” or compelling the Sierra Club to shill for the Keystone XL and Dakota Access oil pipelines. It has no more integrity than either of those hypotheticals, and it should be as universally condemned as they both would rightly be.
Put simply, no place exists for government compulsion to advertise the contrary view to one’s belief. And here, the campaign is made worse by government picking one side in the debate. Imagine Planned Parenthood’s reaction if its abortion facilities were compelled to point the way to pro-life pregnancy centers, provide phone numbers, directions, and websites to facilitate the connection, and declare upon first meeting potential clients that they do not provide services that result in live children. Regardless of one’s political pedigree, this effort should be condemned for what it is—an unconstitutional violation of free speech.
The U.S. Supreme Court has long repudiated government attempts to coerce free citizens into reciting state-scripted messages. Indeed, when West Virginia sought to force students to salute the American flag and say the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools during World War II, the Court rejected such compulsion as incompatible with the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment, stating that “no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion, or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.”
That solicitude for the right to free speech applies equally to pregnancy resource centers, despite the efforts of Planned Parenthood and its government allies to pretend otherwise. Many courts across the country have agreed that such laws violate free speech guarantees, striking them down in Austin, TexasMontgomery County, MarylandBaltimoreNew York City. Such rulings, however, have done little to diminish Planned Parenthood’s zeal to compel defenders of unborn life to advertise for abortion.
For instance, in 2015, California passed the Reproductive FACT Act, requiring what it termed “crisis pregnancy centers” to advertise for abortion. California has claimed that such scripted abortion advertisements are necessary to inform women of their healthcare options, but legislators targeted the law to apply almost exclusively to pro-life centers. Though other federal appeals courts have struck down such efforts, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit upheld the law in National Institute of Family and Life Advocates v. Becerra. Happily, the decision caught the eye of the Supreme Court, which on Nov. 13 agreed to review the decision.
The Supreme Court’s intervention is much needed, as the 9th Circuit’s decision likely emboldened copycat legislation. For example, Hawaii passed a similar law in 2016 but added even more onerous penalties—enough in fact to cripple and even close down pro-life nonprofits if they refused to be bullied into compliance. And in 2017, King County, Washington, passed a law requiring pregnancy resource centers to post a sign stating that they are not healthcare facilities, thereby interfering with the centers’ relationship with, and attempts to help, pregnant women seeking information and a true range of options for them and their unborn children.
Fortunately, these efforts continue to be met with judicial skepticism. As already noted, the majority of courts to review these laws have struck them down, and a California trial court recently added its name to a roster which is on the right side of fair play, common sense, and constitutionality. In reviewing the Reproductive FACT Act under the California Constitution, Judge Gloria Trask, just weeks ago, found the law an unconstitutional infringement on free speech. In so doing, Judge Trask held that “compelled speech of a political or cultural nature is not the tool of a free government.” She concluded that California was able to “deliver its message without infringing upon anyone’s liberty” and had no need to violate the “individual freedom of mind” held sacrosanct by the Supreme Court.
NIFLA v. Becerra provides the Supreme Court with the opportunity to finally put an end to attempts to compel pregnancy resource centers to advertise for abortion. If Planned Parenthood were as pro-choice as they claim, they too would agree that this is a political strategy that must come to an end.