The U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the right of anti-abortion group Christ’s Bride Ministries to advertise in Philadelphia’s public transit stations by rejecting, without comment, an appeal from the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA).
SEPTA removed a certain poster created by Christ’s Bride Ministries in February 1996, about a month after it the poster first appeared. SEPTA said that the decision to remove the ad was made after the health claims made by the poster were called into question.
The large, 4×5 foot posters said “women who choose abortion suffer more & deadlier breast cancer” and listed an informational phone number.
Department of Health and Human Services Assistant Secretary Dr. Philip Lee sent a letter to the SEPTA in which he called the ad “unfortunately misleading,” and “unduly alarming.” He further stated that the ad “does not accurately reflect the weight of the scientific literature.”
A federal judge threw out Christ’s Bride Ministries’ suit against SEPTA, arguing that the transit authority was not a “public forum” in which free speech is protected under the First Amendment. The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated the lawsuit in June 1998, contending that “The forum is not the SEPTA stations but only the advertising space within the stations,” which allow “virtually unlimited access.” The appeals court also noted that SEPTA has no policy demanding proof of claims made by advertisers.
Lawyers for SEPTA contend that ads in the transit stations are not part of a public forum because they are bound by a contract in which SEPTA retained the right to remove advertising that it found objectionable.