The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday struck down a California law that required anti-abortion crisis clinics to let patients know about the availability of free state-provided abortions, ruling that it violated the free-speech rights of the Christian-based centers.
Under a 1973 ruling, abortions are legal in the United States in most instances. But the new 5-4 decision handed anti-abortion activists a significant victory, approving of the way the clinics — often called crisis pregnancy centers — advise women with unplanned pregnancies against having an abortion.
The majority opinion said the California law "imposes an unduly burdensome disclosure requirement" on the clinics to pass on information they do not believe in. California said the law was needed to let poor women know of all options related to their pregnancies.
Justice Clarence Thomas said in his majority opinion that the crisis centers "are likely to succeed" in their constitutional challenge of the law.
Justice Stephen Breyer, writing for four liberal dissenters, said that among the reasons the law should have been upheld is that the Supreme Court had previously ruled in favor of state laws requiring doctors to tell women contemplating an abortion about the availability of adoption services.
"After all," Breyer wrote, "the law must be evenhanded."
Crisis centers say they provide legitimate health services for women, but that their mission is to steer women with unplanned pregnancies away from abortion. Abortion rights activists say there are about 2,700 such clinics in the U.S., including 200 in California, far outnumbering the number of clinics that perform abortions.
In 2014, the most recent year for which statistics have been released, the government said 652,639 abortions were performed in the U.S.
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said the administration of President Donald Trump was pleased that the decision upheld freedom of speech for the clinics.
"Speakers should not be forced by their government to promote a message with which they disagree, and pro-life pregnancy centers in California should not be forced to advertise abortion and undermine the very reason they exist," Sessions said. He said the Justice Department "will continue to vigorously defend the freedom of all Americans to speak peacefully in accord with their deeply held beliefs and conscience."