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Supreme Court's logic shows no evenhandedness toward abortion clinics

REUTERS/Yuri Gripas
In essence, in the California case the court deemed the health and safety of pregnant women to be less important than the right to free speech of CPCs, which mostly are unlicensed, unregulated, and shown again and again to disseminate lies about abortion.

In U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy’s concurring opinion striking down the California Legislature’s law requiring crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) to inform women of all options available to them, including abortion, he wrote, “The State requires primarily pro-life pregnancy centers to promote the State’s own preferred message advertising abortions. This compels individuals to contradict their most deeply held beliefs, beliefs grounded in basic philosophical, ethical, or religious precepts, or all of these.”

Jane Ahlin
Jane Ahlin

Kennedy also said the law struck down is “a paradigmatic example of the serious threat presented when government seeks to impose its own message in the place of individual speech, thought, and expression.”

On the face of it, his great deference to individual precepts could be seen as laudable. However, as Justice Stephen Breyer said during oral arguments on the case, “the rule of law embodies evenhandedness … what is sauce for the goose is normally sauce for the gander.” 

In Breyer’s words, “if a State can lawfully require a doctor to tell a woman seeking abortion about adoption services, why should it not be able to require a medical counselor to tell a woman seeking prenatal care or other reproductive healthcare about childbirth and abortion services?”

What Breyer was saying — what the conservative majority on the court ignored — is that evenhandedness has been denied to abortion clinics. In essence, in the California case the court deemed the health and safety of pregnant women to be less important than the right to free speech of CPCs, which mostly are unlicensed, unregulated, and shown again and again to disseminate lies about abortion. Some connect abortion to breast cancer, suicide, or future infertility, connections utterly debunked by many sound scientific studies.

What makes the court’s decision stunningly egregious is that more than two dozen states require medical professionals to say things about abortion that those professionals know are lies. If we used Kennedy’s own words in an evenhanded way, those anti-abortions legislatures require medical professionals “to promote the State’s own preferred message ... compel[ling] individuals to contradict their most deeply held beliefs grounded in basic philosophical, ethical, or religious precepts, or all of these.” Actually, for doctors and nurses he would have to work in “medically factual precepts.” 

Given that the U.S. Supreme Court insists states allow CPCs to engage in deception undermining the health of pregnant women under the guise of free speech, Americans must ask why the court allows States to force abortion clinicians to tell their patients state-written lies.

Here’s the rub: As the Supreme Court traffics more and more in right-wing ideology that threatens the reproductive rights of women, statistics about America’s preference for abortion essentially have not changed. According to PEW research the percentage of Americans who favor abortion in “most cases” has hovered around 60 percent since 1995. 

That is a strong majority — although in the judiciary more and more a poorly represented majority. Don’t expect fairness for goose and gander. Goodness, we’re to forget pregnant women have rights.

A writer and columnist from Fargo, North Dakota, Jane Ahlin also has taught English at Minnesota State University Moorhead. She serves on the board of Planned Parenthood of Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota.

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Comments (3)

Is the rub that these are unlicensed centers?

Licensed medical professionals would be ethically bound to share all options with a patient. The professional could elect not to offer some or all of these options as part of their practice as per their moral, religious, conscience or beliefs. Does it seem the court is giving CPCs an out because they are in some way not bound by medical ethics?

I bristle when the courts tell medical practitioners what they have to tell patients. Much like my butcher telling my mechanic what they need to check to fix my car. I can live with it when it's relatively benign such as requiring medical professionals to share options about adoption- something the ethical medical practitioner is already doing. Maybe once all legislators complete medical school and training I will consider take their advice.

Is it that these CPCs are unlicensed centers staffed by who knows what gives them the the right not to share information about all medical options? If this is so, the state could and should enter to shut these clinics down for practicing medicine without a license. If licensed practitioners are involved, their licenses should be in peril.

Health

The Supreme Court won't be against abortions, they will be against safe abortions.

Medical practice

It's good to remind ourselves that the doctor patient relationship is about the patient, not the doctor. It's now our job as people who seek medical care to make doctors feel better about themselves.