April 4, 2016 —New York City and several antiabortion-rights crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) have reached a settlement in a lawsuit challenging a 2011 ordinance aimed at curbing CPCs' misinformation, Courthouse News Service reports (Divito, Courthouse News Service, 3/31).
The ordinance requires CPCs to disclose whether they offer abortion services, emergency contraception and prenatal care or refer for such services. Under the ordinance, the information must be posted in English and Spanish in the centers and in advertisements. The ordinance also requires CPCs to disclose whether they have a licensed medical provider on site.
After two CPCs challenged the ordinance, U.S. District Judge William Pauley in July 2011 temporarily blocked it from taking effect, saying it is "offensive to free speech principles."
In 2014, a three-judge panel of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Pauley went too far in rejecting the ordinance as a whole and restored the requirement that CPCs disclose whether a licensed medical provider is working at the facility. They noted that without such abilities, the city would be deprived "of its ability to protect the health of its citizens and combat consumer deception in even the most minimal way."
However, the judges declined to reinstate the other components of the ordinance, ruling that they likely were unconstitutional. Those components included the provision requiring CPCs to disclose whether they would refer women for abortion care, emergency contraception or prenatal care, as well as a provision mandating that CPCs post signs stating that "the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene encourages women who are or who may be pregnant to consult with a licensed [provider]." (Women's Health Policy Report, 1/22/14).
According to Courthouse News Service, the city and the CPCs -- Pregnancy Care Center of New York, Boro Pregnancy Counseling Center and Good Counsel -- entered settlement negotiations after the Supreme Court declined to review the legal challenge.
In a nine-page agreement, Pauley affirms that the provisions in the ordinance requiring CPCs to disclose the services they provide and mandating that they post the government message are "permanently enjoined." However, the settlement confirms that city officials can enforce the provision requiring the CPCs to disclose whether a licensed medical provider is on staff. Moreover, according to the settlement, the plaintiffs in the lawsuit are not permitted to file any additional legal challenges against the ordinance as presently enforced.
Under the settlement, Good Counsel facilities will undergo surprise inspections by April 27 to confirm that the organization's two locations in the city do not hold themselves out as medical facilities. The settlement limits Good Counsel's ability to challenge those inspections: The CPC can file a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of how the ordinance is enforced, but it is prohibited from filing suit over administration actions, such as asking for a re-inspection or a re-interpretation of any investigative findings.
Nicholas Ciappetta, who represented New York City in the settlement negotiations, said the settlement "paves the way for enforcement of the law." He added, "This is an important victory for women that will help ensure that they are not deceived about the availability of time sensitive reproductive services and can make informed decisions about their health" (Courthouse News Service, 3/31).