Abortion, free expression in conflict at top US court


Washington (AFP)

"Clinics" across the United States feature "caregivers" in white blouses accompanied by ultrasound gear, but one thing pregnant women will not get in these facilities is an abortion.

Calling themselves "Crisis Pregnancy Centers," they are at the heart of a sensitive case going before the United States Supreme Court on Tuesday.

Christian and conservative groups are objecting to a California law which obliges such private anti-abortion agencies to tell pregnant clients they can get an abortion or contraception at other centers subsidized by the state.

Groups opposed to voluntary abortion argue that the 2015 law, backed by Democrats, violates their right to freedom of expression guaranteed by the First Amendment to the Constitution.

The fundamental right to abortion has become "more fundamental than is the fundamental right of freedom of speech," even though the latter has been established for 227 years in the Constitution's Bill of Rights, says a briefing filed by Liberty Counsel, a Christian group dedicated to defending human life "from the moment of conception."

Abortion, the group said, has only been recognized as a fundamental right for 45 years, a reference to the 1973 Roe v Wade Supreme Court decision which legalized abortion throughout the country.

The US has seen an anti-abortion push since President Donald Trump took office in January last year, with his Republican Party that opposes abortion controlling Congress.

On Monday the Republican governor of Mississippi promulgated a law banning abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy, including in cases of rape or incest, down from a 20-week limit.

In the current national context the decision by the nine Supreme Court justices will likely have ramifications beyond California, the most populous state, which has about 200 "Crisis Pregnancy Centers" typically run by Christian conservatives.

The centers present themselves as assisting and advising women with unplanned pregnancies, but try to convince them not to go through with abortions.

They are "fake women's health centers," said Maggie Jo Buchanan, former associate director of the Women's Health and Rights Program at the Center for American Progress, a policy institute which describes itself as dedicated to "progressive ideas."

The centers "are sophisticated organizations that utilize misleading and manipulative tactics to lure women into their doors," Buchanan said.

California's law requires such centers to clearly tell their clients whether they are able to practice medicine and whether health care professionals are on hand.

Buchanan told AFP that, if the Supreme Court invalidates California's law, it "would be creating an unacceptable right for organizations to use medically inaccurate information and manipulative tactics to push a political agenda on people simply seeking good health care."

The Supreme Court will render its decision before the end of June.