New York City sued over crisis pregnancy center gag law
NEW YORK, March 21, 2011 (LifeSiteNews.com) – A federal lawsuit has been filed against the city of New York over a new law that requires pro-life pregnancy care centers to publish messages that would encourage pregnant women to seek help elsewhere. Centers that do not comply could face steep fines or forcible closure by city health authorities.
The lawsuit filed by the Alliance Defense Fund is in response to Bill 371-A, which was signed into law by Mayor Michael Bloomberg last Wednesday.
The law requires non-medical, pro-life “pregnancy services centers” to inform women with notices posted in both English and Spanish whether they have a licensed medical provider on staff. The signs would also state that the city’s Health Department encourages women to seek help from a licensed medical provider if the center does not have one on staff.
It also requires the pro-life centers to post on signs and ads whether they provide referrals for abortion, “emergency contraception,” and prenatal care.
The notices are required both for the pregnancy centers’ facilities and on their advertizing – in a size and font to be determined by city authorities.
“At a time when New Yorkers believe the city’s abortion ratio to be too high, it’s absurd to see the city work with pro-abortion groups to ensure that the public is ‘protected’ from the ‘threat’ of these compassionate, caring, nonprofit groups that exist specifically because they oppose harm to women and their babies,” said Matt Bowman, legal counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF).
The ADF said that the law seems clearly biased, since state law does not require medical providers at non-medical centers, nor does it require abortion providers, such as Planned Parenthood, to make any disclosures in favor of abortion alternatives.
Failure to post the signs can result in fines of up to $1,000 for the first day of violation and up to $2,500 for each day thereafter. After three days of violation within a two-year period, the city health commissioner can shut down the center with the assistance of police. Other parts of the law allow for additional fines and imprisonment.
The NYC law is similar to ordinances in Montgomery County, Maryland, and Baltimore that are also caught up in federal court. ADF has filed legal challenges against those ordinances claiming that they are a case of government compelling speech in violation of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
Federal judges have issued injunctions against the laws in both cases. In the Montgomery County case, U.S. District Judge Deborah K. Chasanow ruled that officials were within constitutional bounds to require centers to publicize with signs whether a licensed medical professional was on hand. But she put a hold on the second part, severing it from the rest of the law, saying officials were stepping outside the scope of the speech government can compel, by forcing the centers to encourage the women to go elsewhere.
The New York City law defines a “pregnancy services center” as any facility with a primary purpose of serving pregnant women or women who may become pregnant, offers ultrasounds or medical exams, or “has the appearance of a licensed medical facility.” ADF says that the last part is so broad that it could cover homes to serve the homeless or abused and abandoned women, even if they do not function as pregnancy centers.
ADF is representing two centers and a maternity home in the lawsuit against the city, which is filed with the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York.
“Plaintiffs desire to offer their free, non-medical, non-commercial assistance to women without the threat of Bill 371-A forcing them to recite government-mandated speech, to be priced out of advertising to women in need, and to face fines, closure and jail time,” the lawsuit states.
The suit is Pregnancy Care Center of New York v. City of New York.