California must pay pro-life pregnancy centers $399K , judge rules

A visitor reaches for a pro-life bumper sticker the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Maryland March 14, 2013.
A visitor reaches for a pro-life bumper sticker the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Maryland March 14, 2013. | Reuters/Kevin Lamarque

California must pay three pro-life pregnancy centers and a conservative law firm $399,000 in legal fees and other costs after a state law meant to force pregnancy centers to promote abortion was struck down.

Last October, California’s Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care, and Transparency (FACT) Act was declared unconstitutional, with a district court granting a permanent injunction against the law.

U.S. District Court Judge Terry Hatter for the Central District of California issued an order Monday saying that California must pay the Pregnancy and Family Resource Center of San Bernardino, His Nesting Place of Long Beach, Birth Choice of the Desert in La Quinta, and the Liberty Counsel $399,000.

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Mat Staver, founder and chairman of the Liberty Counsel, said in a statement released Tuesday that the judge’s order was “a great victory for children, mothers, and families.”

“Pro-life pregnancy centers will no longer be compelled to speak a message that goes against their mission to save the lives of babies and women,” said Staver.

“The law violated freedom of speech. The First Amendment protects the right to speak and the right not to speak. Faith-based pro-life pregnancy centers cannot be forced to promote human genocide.”

In 2015, California passed the FACT Act, which mandated that all licensed pregnancy health centers, among other things, include a sign that refers patients to abortion clinics.

Failure to comply with the law would have resulted in a $500 fine on the first offense and then a $1,000 fine for each subsequent offense.

In October 2016, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upheld the law, upholding a lower court decision that the act "survives any level of scrutiny" and "does not discriminate based on viewpoint."

Last June, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in National Institute of Family and Life Advocates v. Becerra that the act “unduly burdens protected speech.”

"The unlicensed notice imposes a government-scripted, speaker-based disclosure requirement that is wholly disconnected from California's informational interest," wrote Justice Clarence Thomas.

"California has offered no justification that the notice plausibly furthers. It targets speakers, not speech, and imposes an unduly burdensome disclosure requirement that will chill their protected speech."

The high court reversed the lower court decision and remanded the case to district court, where last October U.S. District Judge John Houston issued a permanent injunction against the FACT Act.

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