Court Blocks Enactment of NYC Law Targeting Crisis Pregnancy Centers

by | Jul 15, 2011 | Charisma Archive

constitutioncroppedThe American
Center for Law and Justice convinced a federal district court to
block enforcement of New York City’s recently adopted ordinance
targeting crisis pregnancy centers. The measure, scheduled to take
effect on Thursday, has been blocked by a preliminary injunction issued in
response to a challenge made by the ACLJ in a federal lawsuit.

“This
is a resounding victory underscoring what we have argued all along—this law that forces crisis pregnancy centers to adopt and express views
about abortion and contraception that they strongly disagree with is
constitutionally flawed,” says CeCe Heil, senior counsel of the ACLJ.
“The court clearly understood that this law punishes pro-life
advocates. We’re confident that this law will never see the light of day
and that the constitutional protections afforded to crisis pregnancy
centers will be safeguarded.”

In a decision issued by
Judge William H. Pauley in U.S. District Court for the Southern District
of New York, the court concluded the law violates free speech,
saying the law’s “over-expansiveness is evident from its very language.”
The court was especially critical of the city’s desire to single-out
crisis pregnancy centers with the new law.

“Defendants’
second 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 principles,” the court declared. “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
states: “This court will not upend established free speech protections
in service of defendants’ overly broad definition of commercial speech.”
The court added:  “Local Law 17’s fundamental flaw is that … [it]
permits the Commission to classify a facility as a ‘pregnancy services
center’ based solely on unspecified criteria.”

The ordinance
requires crisis pregnancy centers to post signs in the lobbies of their
counseling centers, add extensive additional written language to their
advertising materials, and to 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 businesses like Planned Parenthood.

The
ACLJ 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 a total of 13
crisis pregnancy centers across New York City.

The suit
contends that the ordinance violates the constitutionally protected
rights to freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and association,
freedom of the press, and due process of law, guaranteed to Plaintiffs
by the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, as well
as the New York Constitution.

It remains to be seen whether the
City of New York will appeal Wednesday’s decision to the Second Circuit
Court of Appeals. In the meantime, the case will continue with discovery,
and ultimately consideration of motions already filed to grant a
permanent injunction against the City.

The ACLJ is being assisted
in the case by Christopher A. Ferrara, New York litigation counsel to
American Catholic Lawyers Association, who is serving as local counsel.

Similar ordinances were recently struck down as unconstitutional by federal judges in Baltimore and Montgomery County, Md.

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