July 13, 2018


A win for pro-life centers

If you were in the market for a new car and went into a car dealership, would you expect to see a sign prominently displayed telling you that you might get a better deal elsewhere? Or if you were shopping for a mortgage in a bank, wouldn’t you be surprised to see a sign saying that lower rates were available across the street?

Businesses are usually not required to advertise for their competitors. Yet that’s what a California law was doing when it required pro-life pregnancy counseling centers to post signs in a prominent position advising clients that free or low-cost access to abortion and contraception was available elsewhere. The centers also had to state that they were not medical facilities.

The U.S. Supreme Court struck down this law on June 26 by a vote of 5-4, with Justice Anthony Kennedy siding with the four conservative justices: Chief Justice John Roberts, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch. (Kennedy announced his retirement from the court, effective on July 31, the following day.)

It’s a wonder that the court’s decision wasn’t unanimous considering how unfair the California law was. If a law was passed requiring a Buick dealer to post a notice that a customer might get a better deal at a Ford dealer, it probably would have been struck down unanimously. But the California law was about abortion, and those pregnancy counseling centers are trying to convince women not to have an abortion. So the anti-life forces were up in arms.

The fact that the California legislature was able to pass such a law in the first place shows where our country is today on the issue of abortion.

Justice Thomas wrote the majority opinion for the court. He condemned the idea that the pro-life centers were required to “provide a government-drafted script” about the availability of abortion—“the very practice that petitioners are devoted to opposing.” California can use other means to tell women about the availability of abortion, he wrote, but it “cannot coopt the licensed facilities to deliver its message for it.”

We should note that the decision wasn’t based on the immorality of abortion. It was, rather, a free-speech issue. Requiring the posting of those signs, Thomas wrote, “imposes an unduly burdensome disclosure requirement that will chill their protected speech.”

In a separate concurring opinion, Kennedy said that the California law was a classic example of “the serious threat presented when government seeks to impose its own message in the place of individual speech, thought and expression.”

He continued, “For here the state requires primarily pro-life centers to promote the state’s own preferred message advertising abortions. This compels individuals to contradict their most deeply held beliefs, beliefs grounded in basic philosophical, ethical or religious precepts, or all of these. And the history of the Act’s passage and its underinclusive application suggest a real possibility that these individuals were targeted because of their beliefs.”

We applaud the court’s decision.

—John F. Fink

Appointment of a new justice

Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement from the Supreme Court gave President Donald J. Trump an opportunity to nominate his second appointment to the court. He has appointed Judge Brett Kavanaugh, a Catholic who received a Jesuit education, who works with Catholic Charities in Washington, and who coaches his daughter’s Catholic Youth Organization basketball team.

Kennedy was the “swing” vote on the court, sometimes deciding with the conservatives and sometimes with the liberals. Therefore, Kavanaugh, a conservative, could change the complexion of the court for decades. It’s no wonder that liberals are fighting to try to prevent the Senate from confirming Kavanaugh.

Conservatives are already looking ahead, hoping that a court composed of five conservatives and four liberals will reverse the Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion. It was precisely because of this possibility that many Americans voted for Trump despite disagreeing with him on other issues.

A note of caution here: The history of the Supreme Court is full of examples of justices who turned out differently than expected when presidents nominated them.

Note, too, that a vote to reverse

Roe v. Wade would not make abortion illegal. It would send the issue back to the states.

—John F. Fink

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