By David Pendered
Georgia has joined 21 other states in filing a brief in the U.S. Supreme Court to oppose a California law that requires pro-life pregnancy centers to display information about the availability of state-funded abortions. Other entities taking similar positions are the Southern Baptist Convention, Conference of Catholic Bishops and Jews for Religious Freedom.
The state’s action on the abortion notification issue comes as state lawmakers keep an eye on proposed and potential religious liberty legislation. Any forward movement on the matter could factor into Amazon’s deliberations on where to locate its second headquarters. Metro Atlanta is on the short list of 20 potential sites.
In the Supreme Court case, six Georgia Republican congressmen signed a brief filed on behalf of a bipartisan In group identified as, “144 Members of Congress.” The Georgia signers include representatives Earl “Buddy” Carter; Drew Ferguson; Austin Scott; Jody Hice; Barry Loudermilk, and Rick Allen.
The California case was appealed to the Supreme Court from the same U.S. appellate court that has bedeviled President Trump’s proposed travel bans.
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the California abortion-rights notification law in a ruling issued Oct. 14, 2016. The appellate court declined to rehear the case in a ruling issued Dec. 20, 2016. The Supreme Court is set to hear arguments March 20.
The law requires clinics that provide pregnancy counseling to post a notice that the state provides free or low-cost abortion services to those who meet financial criteria. The clinics at issue tend to be set up and staffed by abortion opponents, according to published reports.
The National Institute of Family and Life Advocates brought the case to the Supreme Court. NIFLA is a non-profit entity based in Fredericksburg, Va. that reported ending its 2015 fiscal year with a balance of $19,096 on reported revenues that year of $818,127, according to its 990 tax return.
NIFLA describes itself as a:
- “[F]aith-based, Christian ministry that seeks to glorify God by proclaiming the sanctity of human life, both born and unborn. … NIFLA seeks to develop a network of life-affirming ministries in every community across the nation. We will continue to work toward an abortion-free America where every human life, born and unborn, is made in the image of God is valued.”
The Supreme Court has agreed to consider a narrow issue in the California case:
- “Whether the disclosures required by the California Reproductive Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care, and Transparency Act violate the protections set forth in the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment, applicable to the States through the Fourteenth Amendment.”
Georgia filed its position in a brief signed by states including Alabama, Kansas, Kentucky, Texas and West Virginia. Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr’s office announced Jan. 19 that Georgia was joining the case.
The states contend in their friend of the court brief that they have an interest in the outcome of the case because of the First Amendment issue:
- “This law requires medical facilities to give non-medical information unrelated to services they provide, diminishing the importance of any state interest in comparison to the First Amendment rights of those compelled to speak the State’s message.”
A total of 30 amicus curiae briefs were filed. Several represent multiple entities and most oppose the ruling by the appellate court.
Organizations that filed briefs raising similar First Amendment concerns include the Christian Employers Alliance, the nonpartisan Cato Institute, Missouri Synod of the Lutheran Church, and National Association of Evangelicals.
As the Jews for Religious Liberty observed in its friend of the court brief:
- “Amicus maintains that while the Ninth Circuit’s holding would curtail every American’s freedom of speech, it will uniquely threaten practitioners of minority religions such as Orthodox Judaism. Amicus is dedicated to protecting the religious liberty of its co- religionists as well as adherents of other religions nationwide.”