The hypocrisy is pretty clear to see.
Last week religious-right groups expressed outrage that the Austin City Council passed an ordinance requiring so-called “crisis pregnancy centers” to post signs telling visitors if they have no licensed healthcare professionals on site. Such facilities are typically not medical clinics and exist primarily to persuade pregnant women not to have an abortion. The ordinance would let a pregnant woman know upfront that she will not receive medical care at the facility.
But such a requirement is government-mandated speech, religious-right groups say, and thus a violation of the First Amendment. Samuel B. Casey of the Law of Life Project said the First Amendment protects the right of free speech as well as the right not to speak:
The government cannot “make a private citizen speak the government’s message. It doesn’t matter what the message is. What matters is that it’s the government’s message.”
Liberty Institute, the Texas affiliate of Focus on the Family, similarly charged that the new Austin ordinance suffers from the same legal defects it claimed in an earlier, broader ordinance that the City Council repealed. The group said it opposes measures “requiring pregnancy centers, under the threat of criminal penalties, to disclose government-mandated information about their services at their front entrances.”
But Liberty Institute’s opposition to “government-mandated information” is rather selective. Consider the new Texas law — passed by the Legislature in 2011 — requiring a doctor to perform a sonogram on a woman 24 hours (in most cases) before proceeding with an abortion the woman has requested. The new law mandates that the doctor show the sonogram image and describe the fetus in detail to the woman, “including a medical description of the dimensions of the embryo or fetus, the presence of cardiac activity, and the presence of external members and internal organs.” The doctor must also make the heartbeat audible and describe it to the woman. Liberty Institute says this government-mandated message is just fine:
“Liberty Institute argues that HB 15 is consistent with Supreme Court and only requires the disclosure of truthful and accurate information to allow women to make informed decisions regarding their pregnancies.”
So let’s recap. According to religious-right groups, it’s a violation of the First Amendment if government requires a “crisis pregnancy center” to post a sign simply stating, truthfully, that it does not have a licensed healthcare professional on site. But they claim it’s not a violation of the First Amendment if government requires a physician to subject a woman to a detailed description of her fetus if she has requested an abortion.
This isn’t really about just the First Amendment. It’s about hypocrisy and using government to intrude in one of the most private, intimate and difficult decisions a woman can make. Some folks are for “limited government,” except when they’re not.