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Lines drawn in Californian reproductive health battle

Editorial Staff

The US Surpreme Court has granted an order of certiorari which sends back to the district court the case of National Institute of Family and Life Advocates v. Xavier Becerra for review. California's bizarrely named Reproductive Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care, and Transparency (FACT) Act is defended by Becarram California's Attorney General. and the plaintiff is a campaigning group claiming that the FACT act is unconstitutional. The case has made a monumental decision, at federal level, about religion and abortion and contraception.

The Attorney General's office describes the FACT act in this way: "The Reproductive FACT Act prohibits clinics from providing misleading information about the services they offer to women to deter them from using contraception or abortion services. State-licensed medical clinics in California must now inform women that they can obtain certain basic information about free and low-cost family planning, prenatal, and abortion care. Unlicensed clinics are now required to disclose to all clients that their facility is not a
state-licensed medical facility."

It is difficult to see much wrong with that. But the campaigners issued proceedings claiming, inter alia, that it breached their First Amendment free speech rights by compelling them to utter a government message. The plaintiffs also claimed that the Act breached their First Amendment right to free exercise of religion by discriminating against their religiously motivated anti-abortion activities. " (California Attorney General's statement).

At first instance and on first appeal, the courts found against the campaigners on all heads. On appeal to the Supreme Court, the case was remitted to the District Court on the Free Speech Clause argument only that it so say the requirement to provide information on a range of options and consequences. It is therefore now settled federal law that it there is no religious defence to a requirement, by States, that balanced information be provided.