Understanding NIFLA v. Becerra: A Decade-Long Struggle to Defend the Right to Serve
Jeanneane Maxon, J.D., Associate Scholar, Charlotte Lozier Institute.
The U.S. Supreme Court will hear NIFLA v. Becerra this month. The case will serve as the culmination of a decade-long struggle of pro-life pregnancy centers to defend their right to serve their communities.
I joined this struggle in 2007, when the first piece of hostile legislation against pro-life pregnancy centers was introduced in Oregon. My first day as General Counsel of Care Net, a national affiliation organization for faith-based pro-life pregnancy centers, was spent in Oregon where the first piece of anti-pregnancy center legislation had been introduced. Over the next five years, I would find myself involved in similar efforts across the nation—Washington, Maryland, Virginia, Texas, New Hampshire, and New York to name a few.
Such legislation was always promoted by individuals or organizations with extreme pro-abortion agendas, and often preceded by false and defamatory “reports” released to the public. Many times, groups like Planned Parenthood and NARAL would recruit young women to approach a pregnancy center pretending to be a client in need. Their real agenda was to trick pregnancy center volunteers into making a mistake outside of center protocol. Of course, what these “fake clients” were unable to find, they made up.
The legislation itself always included impossible requirements designed to obliterate the centers’ advertising, such as requiring false and misleading disclaimers such as, “We are not required to provide you factually accurate information.” Often these disclaimers were required to be provided in every piece of advertising, sometimes in large font, and sometimes in five or more languages. Some bills attached criminal penalties for center personnel and citizen volunteers who failed to comply. In the vast majority of these cases pregnancy centers were vindicated, either in the courts or before legislatures.
What is more, at least 17 states, and even the White House have commended pro-life pregnancy centers and their volunteers for the unique and important contributions they have made to their communities. And the clients agree. In fact, in 2016, the Care Net network, which requires annual tracking of client satisfaction, reported that their centers regularly receive client satisfaction ratings of 97% or more.
In 2015, California took anti-pregnancy legislation to a new level by requiring pro-life pregnancy centers to not only post disclaimers, but also provide all clients with an advertisement directing her to information on receiving a state-sponsored abortion. After lengthy court battles, the 9th Circuit upheld the law. The U.S. Supreme Court accepted the case and will hear arguments on March 20, 2018.
I know pregnancy centers well. At Care Net, I provided legal education to a network of over 1200 pregnancy centers, and I conducted approximately 600 legal reviews of pregnancy centers, in consultation with their local attorneys. I have met with hundreds of center staff and volunteers across the country, spoken at dozens of their fundraising banquets, and been inside multiple centers from coast to coast, seeing their work firsthand.
Unequivocally, the women and men who work and volunteer in pregnancy centers are of the most selfless and compassionate among us. Pregnancy centers provide families facing a pregnancy decision with compassionate care and support, including free medical services like ultrasounds, prenatal care, material assistance, parenting education and more. Pregnancy centers are community-based and supported, and primarily volunteer operated. The vast majority receive no government funding while saving communities millions of dollars every year.
In 2015, Care Net-affiliated pregnancy centers alone served over 300,000 clients, providing over $56 million worth of services completely free of charge to the client, and almost exclusively absent government funding.
Pregnancy centers believe that no woman should feel that she is forced to have an abortion because of her circumstances. As Frederica Mathewes-Green said, “No one wants an abortion as she wants an ice-cream cone or a Porsche. She wants an abortion as an animal, caught in a trap, want[ing] to gnaw off its own leg.” Pro-life pregnancy centers help women by providing truthful information and support to make the choice they really want to make.
I have heard countless testimonies of women and men who have been helped by these centers, including the words of Jenna, who visited a pregnancy center in Charleston, WV. In tearfully reflecting on her experience, which she describes as compassionate and informative, she says, “There is an option other than terminating…I was really lost…I [now] feel as if my baby has saved me…If we didn’t have her, I don’t know where I would be.”
That California would seek to stifle the work of worthy organizations that serve American families, at no cost to their clients and virtually no cost to the taxpayer, simply because they don’t like the pro-life viewpoint, is appalling. It makes a mockery of President Kennedy’s call to volunteerism when he said, “My fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”
If pro-abortion advocates succeed in obliterating the rights of pro-life pregnancy centers to serve their communities, where does that leave us?
Shall we tell our children, “Ask what you can do for your country, but only if you conform your conscience to the dictates of your government?” It is time, once and for all, for pro-life pregnancy centers to be vindicated.
(c) Charlotte Lozier. 2018. All Rights Reserved.