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Court Blocks New York City Crisis Pregnancy Center Disclosure Law

Court Blocks New York City Crisis Pregnancy Center Disclosure Law

July 14, 2011 — Federal Judge William Pauley on Wednesday temporarily barred New York City from enforcing a law that would require crisis pregnancy centers to disclose more information about their services, the New York Times reports. Pauley said the law is "offensive to free speech principles" (Chen, New York Times, 7/13).

The suit was filed in March in Manhattan Federal Court by Expectant Mother Care/EMC Frontline Pregnancy Center and Life Centers of New York, two CPCs. The law requires the centers to disclose whether they offer abortion services, emergency contraception and prenatal care or refer for such services. Under the law, the information must be posted in English and Spanish in the centers and in advertisements (Women's Health Policy Report, 3/28). The law also requires CPCs to disclose whether they have a licensed medical provider on site. The law was supposed to take effect on Thursday.

Details of Ruling

In his 22-page ruling, Pauley said the city's definition of commercial speech was too broad. He also said that because the law "relates to the provision of emergency contraception and abortion -- among the most controversial issues in our public discourse -- the risk of discriminatory enforcement is high" (New York Times, 7/13).

He wrote that the law would "compel [the plaintiffs] to speak certain messages or face significant fines and/or closure of their facilities." In addition, the city's position "would represent a breathtaking expansion of the commercial speech doctrine," Pauley said. Although the city regards "an assembly of people as an economic commodity, this court does not," he wrote, continuing, "Under such a view, flyers for political rallies, religious literature promoting church attendances or similar forms of expression would constitute commercial speech merely because they assemble listeners for the speaker" (AP/Washington Post, 7/13).

According to the Wall Street Journal, the ruling follows two others in Maryland that found similar legal problems with similar ordinances (Saul, Wall Street Journal, 7/14).

Pauley also criticized the law's opponents. He stated that "the prevention of deception related to reproductive health care is of paramount importance" and that unlicensed ultrasound technicians "operating in pseudo-medical settings can spawn significant harms to pregnant, at-risk women who believe they are receiving care." Furthermore, he wrote, the plaintiffs' claims that such deception does not occur at CPCs "feigns ignorance of the obvious."

The judge suggested that the city convey its message by launching a public service advertising campaign, imposing other requirements on CPCs or lobbying the state Legislature to require licensing for ultrasound technicians. New Mexico and Oregon require that ultrasounds be performed by licensed professionals, he said.

Reaction

City officials said they would appeal the ruling.

Opponents of the law applauded Pauley's decision and expressed confidence that the measure would never take effect (New York Times, 7/13). CeCe Heil -- a lawyer for the American Center for Law and Justice, which argued the case with the Alliance Defense Fund and the American Catholic Lawyers Association -- called the ruling a "resounding victory," adding that the "law, which forces crisis pregnancy centers to adopt and express views about abortion and contraception that they strongly disagree with, is constitutionally flawed."

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D) said the ruling "is deeply disappointing and is a disservice to women." She added, "Today's decision means that pregnancy service centers can continue deceiving women who seek their services. Equally troubling is that the centers will not be required to keep confidential the information collected from women who visit them" (AP/Washington Post, 7/13). Quinn said Pauley's suggestions were "completely unworkable and would create even more legal problems" (New York Times, 7/13).

Council Member Jessica Lappin (D), the legislation's sponsor, said the "judge got it wrong" (Wall Street Journal, 7/14). She added, "This is an important measure to protect women from dangerous and deceptive practices, and we're not going to give up. We're going to keep fighting" (New York Times, 7/13).