Missouri House Passes Bill to Protect Free Speech of Pregnancy Resource Centers, bill now moves on to Senate

Following a third reading, the Missouri House today finally passed HB 1357 which would bar local governments from regulating the speech and advertising of centers that offer counsel to women on alternatives to abortion.

“Abortion advocates have tried to convince the public that Pregnancy Resource Centers are distributing ‘medically inaccurate’ information,” said Pam Fichter, President of Missouri Right to Life. “What that means is that pro-lifers are distributing information pro-abortionists don’t agree with. In particular pro-abortionists object to information on the link between having an induced abortion and an increased risk of breast cancer; and that there can be mental health consequences to having an abortion. There are extensive studies to prove both these facts.”

The legislation is a reaction to attempts around the country–most of which have already been tossed out in courts–to dictate what these alternative to abortion organizations must say to their clients. Harassment laws enacted in New York City and Baltimore have already been overturned by federal judges on First Amendment grounds. The latest onslaught (in San Francisco)is being challenged in court.

Supporters HB 1357 point to language in the court decision striking down the Baltimore ordinance as evidence that courts are resisting what they see as an infringement of free speech.

“[I]t is for the provider – not the Government – to decide when and how to discuss abortion and birth-control methods,” wrote U.S. District Judge Marvin J. Garbis in 2011. “The Government cannot, consistent with the First Amendment, require a ‘pro-life’ pregnancy-related service center to post a sign as would be required by the Ordinance.”

To enforce this legislation, the law provides that a court may order injunctive relief, recovery of damages, or both, as well as payment of reasonable attorney fees, costs and expenses for the state.

The bill now moves to the Senate where, because the session is almost over, it will be an uphill battle for HB1357 unless it is amended to another bill.