What NIFLA v. Becerra Means for the Future of Reproductive Justice
In a state where fake women’s “health clinics” outnumber full-service reproductive healthcare centers by nearly 10 to 1, what does this latest SCOTUS decision mean?
Guest Post by: Deba Uadiale of Access Reproductive Care Southeast
In a 5-4 decision on June 26th, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA) in the NIFLA vs. Becerra case. NIFLA argued that stipulations put in place by the California’s “Reproductive Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care, and Transparency Act” violate their first amendment right to freedom of speech. The decision from this case will outline the work needed in the fight for reproductive justice in California and beyond.
The “Reproductive FACT Act” ensures that people seeking pregnancy care and information are being given accurate and sound medical advice from organizations providing the care, including crisis pregnancy centers. Crisis pregnancy centers are often religiously-affiliated, fake health centers that are not licensed to provide medical services. Those who end up going to these centers typically do so under the assumption that they are going to be provided with affordable, comprehensive care. Their websites are made to sound welcoming, pictures of friendly faces and soft colors fill their pages, but when people enter these spaces it can be a completely different story. Tales arise of patients being lied to about how far along they were or being told that “birth control isn’t in God’s plan” all in the name of discouraging people from having abortions. To combat the dissemination of false information, the “Reproductive FACT Act” was passed in 2015.
This piece of legislation established two sets of stipulations. The first being that nonprofit organizations that are licensed to provide medical services are now required to post notices in order to inform their patients that free or low-cost abortions are available and to provide the number of the state agency that can put the patients in touch with providers of those abortions. The second being centers that are not licensed medical care providers are now required to include disclaimers in their advertisements, in up to 13 languages, that their services do not include medical help. Violation of these stipulations can result in California’s attorney general and local-government lawyers suing said facilities; the penalty is a $500 fine for the first offense and $1000 for any subsequent violations.
According to the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates, this requirement violates their first amendment right by “drowning out” the centers’ anti-abortion mission. This belief gave way to the suit filed against Xavier Becerra, California’s attorney general, with the United States States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. The state of California maintained that the Reproductive FACT Act imposes a “neutral disclosure requirement” and is therefore not a violation of the First Amendment.
Today’s decision in favor of fake health centers affirms that these centers right to freedom of speech in the form of deceiving people outweighs pregnant people’s safety and dignity. People who enter these centers are seeking counsel and the censorship of information provided is a dangerous thing to enable. And, reproductive justice advocates know that it can be most dangerous to people who have the least access to medical care.
“The majority of our callers identify as low-income, women of color our Healthline advocates work with them to ensure they get the care they want and need and deserve, no matter their income,” says Rachel Coe, the Movement Building Director for ACCESS Women’s Health Justice in Oakland, California. ACCESS is a reproductive justice organization and abortion fund that supports people across the state in accessing abortion care.
“That fake health centers purposely lie and shame people seeking support and compassion is unconscionable and adds to the misinformation and stigma around abortion, making it even more burdensome for people navigating very real barriers to their reproductive health. Abortion care isn’t controversial; it’s healthcare.”
While the Supreme Court decision most directly influences California policy, it has national implications. California tends to be the state that sets the tone for the rest of the country. As arguably the most progressive state, the “Reproductive FACT Act” places value on truth in disclosure and empowers folks through knowledge. The decision from the lower court being reversed allows for the continued abuse of disenfranchised communities . This decision lets people of color and low-income folks know that their autonomy and health are not the priority. This is about more than just the “first amendment rights” of these centers, it is a fundamental question of power and control over the bodies of people with limited means of advocating for themselves. This decision reaffirms that we as a country are comfortable with the exploitation of marginalized people being the continued legacy of this country. However, reproductive justice organizations across the country are even more committed to fighting for the elimination of all barriers to abortion access.
Access Reproductive Care-Southeast is on the forefront of this fight in the South. Oriaku Njoku, Co-Founder and Executive Director of the reproductive justice organization, highlights that this issue is all hands on deck.
“Today’s SCOTUS decision was a yet another reminder that it only takes one one vote to change the landscape of how our communities continue to access reproductive health care. We will continue to make sure we are doing our part to fully support our community with unbiased, medically accurate, and compassionate care. Despite the shame and isolation our lawmakers and fake clinics impose on people who have abortions, ARC-Southeast will continue to let our community know that abortion and any other decision they make regarding being pregnant is okay.”
While this decision is a devastating blow to the fight for autonomy for all people, it will not stop reproductive justice advocates. In fact, we are fired up even more to match the fervor of injustice that has seeped into the bone marrow of this nation, to ensure that everyone no matter their zip code or income level has access to the care that they want and need.
Deba Uadiale is the Outreach Intern and Reproductive Rights Activist Service Corps Fellow for Access Reproductive Care-Southeast.
Access Reproductive Care – Southeast helps Southerners and their families navigate the pathways to access safe, compassionate, and affordable reproductive care by providing financial and logistical support and building power in our communities through advocacy, education, and leadership development. To find out more visit arc-southeast.org.