An attempt by pro-abortion factions in New York City to control the speech of pregnancy centers that counsel mothers-to-be has hit a judicial speed bump, with a preliminary injunction from a federal judge that prevents a new city requirement from being enforced while it is argued in court.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg in March signed into law Bill 371-A, which requires pregnancy service centers to tell potential female clients whether they provide abortions and have a licensed medical provider on staff, under the threat of thousands of dollars in fines, closure and even prison for management.
The law, however, does not require abortionists to make any disclosures about abortion alternatives.
The attack on the speech rights of the pro-life centers immediately attracted the intervention of some of the biggest pro-life public interest organizations in the nation, including the American Center for Law and Justice and the Alliance Defense Fund.
“This is a resounding victory underscoring what we have argued all along – this law which forces crisis pregnancy centers to adopt and express views about abortion and contraception that they strongly disagree with is constitutionally flawed,” said CeCe Heil, senior counsel for the ACLJ. “The court clearly understood that this law punishes pro-life advocates.”
The ruling from U.S. District Judge William H. Pauley III said that the pregnancy centers in their court filings “demonstrated irreparable harm and a likelihood of success on the questions of whether [the law] is narrowly tailored to prevent deceptive practices and is unconstitutionally vague.”
The proposal was promoted as addressing the issue of “deceptive practices” at such facilities, although the court ruling noted not “a single prosecution” ever had been brought. The judge suggested those prosecutions, when there is evidence, could be a better way to address the alleged problem instead of “imposing speech obligations on private speakers.”
The ACLJ noted the judge “was especially critical” of New York’s attack on crisis pregnancy centers.
The opinion said the defendants’ argument “that plaintiffs engage in commercial speech because they are provided an audience to whom they can espouse their beliefs – is particularly offensive to free speech principle.”
“While defendants apparently regard an assembly of people as an economic commodity, this court does not. Under such a view, flyers for political rallies, religious literature promoting church attendance, or similar forms of expression would constitute commercial speech merely because they assemble listeners for the speaker.”
The opinion said the court “will not upend established free speech protections in service of defendants’ overly broad definition of commercial speech.”
The ordinance demands that crisis pregnancy centers post signs in the lobbies of their counseling centers, add extensive additional written language to their advertising materials and provide oral statements during both “in person” and telephonic conversations regarding the services offered by crisis pregnancy centers. The requirements apply only to crisis pregnancy centers and not to abortion industry leaders like Planned Parenthood, the ACLJ said.
The organization said it represents The Evergreen Association (Expectant Mother Care Pregnancy Centers-EMC Frontline Pregnancy Centers) and Life Center of New York (AAA Pregnancy Problems Center) which operate 13 crisis pregnancy centers across New York City.
The organization said similar ordinances were recently struck down as unconstitutional by federal judges in Baltimore and Montgomery County, Md.
Matt Bowman, legal counsel for ADF, said pro-life pregnancy centers, “which freely offer real help and hope to women and their preborn children, shouldn’t be punished by political allies of those who make their money aborting babies.”
“This order keeps the city from enforcing a law that is specifically designed to deter pregnant women from receiving the help they need to make fully informed choices about their pregnancy while this lawsuit goes forward,” he said. “The order also means that the court is likely to find the ordinance unconstitutional.”
ADF represents the Pregnancy Care Center of New York in the dispute.
Ironically, halfway across the nation, it is the abortion industry that apparently is going to court to protest a related battle in the abortion wars.
In South Dakota, lawmakers approved a plan to require abortionists to refer potential patients to state-approved pro-life pregnancy help centers for “the other side of the story” before performing any procedure.
Supporters call the bill a precedent-setter that is one of the most significant pieces of legislation since Roe v. Wade in 1973. They say they have lined up volunteer donors to fund the cost of the state’s defense of the law.
At the signing, South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard said “everyone agrees with the goal of reducing abortion by encouraging consideration of other alternatives. I hope that women who are considering an abortion will use this three-day period to make good choices.”
The bill, which sailed through the state legislature, is an act “to establish certain legislative findings pertaining to the decision of a pregnant mother considering termination of her relationship with her child by an abortion, to establish certain procedures to better insure that such decisions are voluntary, uncoerced, and informed, and to revise certain causes of action for professional negligence relating to performance of an abortion.”
Daugaard said he consulted with state Attorney General Marty Jackley over the plan and was informed that supporters, including prime sponsor state Rep. Roger Hunt, had arranged for private funds to be committed to finance the state’s defense if needed, so that the bill would not impact Daugaard’s efforts to balance the budget.
Mathew Staver, founder and director of Liberty Counsel, said the law is a “huge precedent” that moves America “in the right direction to return us to a respect for the sanctity of life.”
He said he expects abortionists will not take the requirement lightly, but he believes the law can be supported constitutionally and could even reach the U.S. Supreme Court, where new precedent could be set.
Those who argue against the law, he noted, will have to argue against providing full and complete information to women.
If that happens, he said, “abortionists are going to be revealed for what they really believe, that women essentially should be duped into having abortions.”
Hunt earlier told WND that HB 1217 is a logical extension of the concern that led to House Bill 1166 several years ago, the informed-consent concept that Planned Parenthood unsuccessfully challenged in court.
That bill, affirmed by the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, requires abortionists to tell pregnant women clearly that an abortion will “terminate the life of a whole, separate, unique, living human being” and that her relationship with that unborn child is protected under the U.S. Constitution and the laws of the state.
Daugaard said South Dakota Department of Health Secretary Doneen Hollingsworth has been tasked with implementing and enforcing the new law even though a legal challenge is expected because of the precedent.
Leslee Unruh of the Alpha Center counseling program said that among the law’s goals is to give women access to full information about the impact of an abortion.
In a statement about the new law, she said, “Just one woman being coerced to have an abortion is too many.”