AUSTIN, TEXAS, January 30, 2012, (LifeSiteNews.com) – Last week, the city of Austin repealed one speech-chilling ordinance targeting the city’s crisis pregnancy centers – and replaced it with another.
In April 2010, city council required the city’s four pregnancy centers – Austin Pregnancy Resource Center, South Austin Pregnancy Resource Center, the Gabriel Project Life Center, and Austin LifeCare – to post signs outside their facilities, in English and Spanish, stating: “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.”
Failure to comply brought a misdemeanor citation and fines totaling $250 for the first offense, $350 for a second offense, and $450 for a third offense.
Attorneys representing the centers immediately notified the council of their objections. In October the Alliance Defense Fund, the Law of Life Project, and the Texas Center for Defense of Life (TCDL) filed a federal lawsuit in U.S. District Court.
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After council members were informed that the city’s law department recommended repeal of the ordinance “to avoid further litigation costs,” they replaced Chapter 10-9 with Chapter 10-10. The new ordinance does not mandate specific wording, but compels centers to post signs on their grounds stating whether all their medical services are supervised by a licensed health care provider or practitioner and if it is a medical facility.
Samuel B. Casey of the Law of Life Project told LifeSiteNews.com the new wording does not solve the constitutional issue, because “it violates the same standards”: the First Amendment right of free speech, which includes the right not to speak.
The government cannot “make a private citizen speak the government’s message,” Casey said. “It doesn’t matter what the message is. What matters is that it’s the government’s message.”
“The Austin ordinance is clearly unconstitutional and will eventually suffer the same fate as all the other similar ordinances passed in other jurisdictions,” said TCDL President Greg Terra.
Austin became the second city in the nation to require the signs announcing that the centers do not provide abortions or abortion referrals, after a 7-0 vote. The first, Baltimore, had its ordinance declared unconstitutional last January. U.S. District Judge Marvin J. Garbis ruled that the signage requirement “violates the Freedom of Speech Clause of Article I of the Constitution of the United States and is unenforceable,” because it “mandates the inclusion of a government message.” As such, it infringed on the most deeply held religious views of the centers’ employees.
Judges have also granted a preliminary injunction against a similar statute in New York City and another in Montgomery County, Maryland. San Francisco considered its own version of the statute last October.
Casey stated Austin’s new law piles vague language on top of an unconstitutional structure, forcing him to add a new objection to his lawsuit.
Both ordinances were the brainchild of councilman Bill Spelman, who claims he only intended to produce “good consumer information.” However, he appeared in a YouTube video uploaded by NARAL Pro-Choice NY in which he called a local crisis pregnancy center “a brainwashing outfit.”
In the video, “Exposing Crisis Pregnancy Centers One City at a Time,” Angela Hooton of the National Institute for Reproductive Health lays out a national strategy known as the Urban Initiative, designed to harass crisis pregnancy centers in urban areas, which are often dominated by more liberal politicians. Spelman’s policy director, Heidi Gerbracht, credited the initiative as the inspiration for his original ordinance.
“These ideologically motivated ordinances seek only to harass and to hinder the free services that pro-life pregnancy centers provide,” TCDL President Greg Terra said. “This ordinance targets pregnancy centers for purely ideological reasons, simply because they are pro-life and encourage women to consider options other than abortion.”
Former Texas Supreme Court Justice Raul A. Gonzalez has also spoken out against the ordinances. “NARAL and the City of Austin have chosen to bully these non-profit pregnancy resource centers who provide valuable services to women,” he said. “Less competition means more money, and the abortion industry is all about the money.”
Volunteers at the Austin centers, which aim to give women alternatives to abortion, say the regulation is offensive and needless, because they already tell women they will not refer clients for abortion or birth control and always indicate whether they have medical personnel available. There have been no complaints nor reports of deficiencies from regulating bodies. Casey told LifeSiteNews the only evidence before the council about his client, Austin LifeCare, was a May 2011 report that described the center as “a valuable and much-needed resource for pregnant and/or parenting women in the Austin area.”
Since the ordinance goes into effect on February 6, before a motion for preliminary injunction can be heard, Casey said he will petition the court for a temporary restraining order this week. He is confident of success.
“I think the city counsel either doesn’t care about wasting taxpayer money on attorneys fees or has not been properly advised by their lawyers,” he said.
The legal organizations that represent the city’s pregnancy centers operate pro bono and accept donations to defray the costs of their litigation.
Alliance Defense Fund
15100 N. 90th Street
Scottsdale, AZ 85260
The Law of Life Project
801 G Street North West
Washingtown, D.C. 20001
Texas Center for Defense of Life
501 S. Austin Ave., Suite 1130
Georgetown, TX 78626