New York nix: Court suspends law threatening pregnancy care centers

ADF secures court order that halts NYC ordinance requiring pregnancy care centers to post patient-deterring signs or face stiff penalties
Wednesday, July 13, 2011

NEW YORK — A federal court issued an order Wednesday that prohibits the city of New York from enforcing a new law while an Alliance Defense Fund lawsuit filed on behalf of two pregnancy care centers and a maternity home continues. The ordinance threatens non-medical, pro-life pregnancy services centers with heavy fines and possible closure if they don’t provide posted, printed, and oral notices crafted by the city that encourage women to go elsewhere.

“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,” said ADF Legal Counsel Matt Bowman. “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. The order also means that the court is likely to find the ordinance unconstitutional.”

The court said the city’s argument that the pregnancy centers “engage in commercial speech because they are provided an audience to whom they can espouse their beliefs--is particularly offensive to free speech principles. 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. Accepting that proposition would permit the Government to inject its own message into virtually all speech designed to advocate a message to more than one individual and thereby eviscerate the First Amendment’s protections.”

The court was also critical of the New York Civil Liberties Union’s defense of the city ordinance: “Given the New York Civil Liberties Union’s (“NYCLU”) usual concern for First Amendment rights, its amicus brief supporting Defendant’s expansive view of the commercial speech doctrine is puzzling.”

In March, Mayor Michael Bloomberg signed Bill 371-A into law after the city council passed it. Two federal courts have issued injunctions against similar bills in Maryland. ADF attorneys represent a pregnancy care center in one of the cases and recently filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the other.

The challenged New York City law obligated pregnancy service centers to notify women whether the center offers abortions and whether it has licensed medical providers on staff (even though the centers are non-medical and are not required to have medical staff available) and also required the centers to encourage women to consult with medical providers. In contrast, the law did not require abortionists to make any disclosures about abortion alternatives. Failure to comply with the law could result in thousands of dollars in fines, shut-down of the centers, and even imprisonment.

ADF filed Pregnancy Care Center of New York v. City of New York in March and later filed a motion for a preliminary injunction as well as a brief in response to arguments made in favor of the law by the New York Civil Liberties Union. M. Todd Parker of Moskowitz & Book, LLP, is local counsel.

Government statistics show that 41 percent of all pregnancies in New York City end up in abortion--a rate New Yorkers believe to be too high.

ADF is a legal alliance of Christian attorneys and like-minded organizations defending the right of people to freely live out their faith. Launched in 1994, ADF employs a unique combination of strategy, training, funding, and litigation to protect and preserve religious liberty, the sanctity of life, marriage, and the family.