Signs of hope in Austin: City reconsiders law regulating pro-life centers

City agrees that centers need not post required signs in wake of lawsuit
Monday, November 14, 2011

ADF attorney sound bite:  Matt Bowman

AUSTIN, Texas — Austin pro-life centers can refrain from posting signs declaring that they do not provide abortions and other services while the city takes a closer look at its problematic law that requires the signs. The agreement puts on hold, until February, a lawsuit filed on behalf of Austin LifeCare, a pregnancy resource center, against the city of Austin by attorneys with the Alliance Defense Fund and two pro-life organizations.

“We are thankful to the city that it will take a closer look at its ordinance, and that, in the meantime, Austin LifeCare can continue to offer real help and hope to women without posting the city’s message,” said ADF Legal Counsel Matt Bowman.

A federal judge struck down a similar Baltimore ordinance in January. In addition, ADF attorneys secured an initial injunction against an ordinance in Montgomery County, Md., in March and recently won an injunction that suspends an ordinance in New York City. A similar motion for a preliminary injunction in the Austin case is on hold while the center is not being forced to post signs.

In April 2010, the Austin City Council passed the ordinance to restrict the operations of what it calls “Limited Service Pregnancy Centers”--facilities that help pregnant women carry their babies to term without offering abortions, referrals to abortionists, or so-called “comprehensive birth control services.”

Under the ordinance, centers such as Austin LifeCare are required to “prominently display, at the entrance of the center, two black and white signs, one in English and one in Spanish, that state, ‘This center does not provide abortions or refer to abortion providers. This center does not provide or refer to providers of U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved birth control drugs and medical devices.’”

The first offense is punishable by a minimum $250 fine; a minimum fine of $350 is issued for the second offense and a minimum $450 fine for the third. The fines only apply to individuals or organizations that primarily provide counseling information about pregnancy services or options. The ordinance does not require centers performing or referring for abortions to post any kind of signs about services that they do not offer.

“We applaud the city of Austin for finally answering in court our letters sent to its city attorney in April and August asking the city to suspend enforcement of this law against our client and to consider repealing it,” explained lead counsel Samuel B. Casey, managing director of the Jubilee Campaign’s Law of Life Project and one of nearly 2,100 attorneys in the ADF alliance. “This is particularly appropriate when there is no evidence that any pregnancy resource center in Austin is doing anything but freely providing a multitude of pregnancy services to women and men who are faced with an unintended pregnancy.”

Texas Center for the Defense of Life attorneys Greg Terra and Stephen Casey, also ADF-allied attorneys, are serving as co-counsel in the lawsuit, Austin LifeCare v. City of Austin, filed last month with the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas-Austin Division.

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.