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ADF asks appeals court to strike down remainder of NYC’s anti-pregnancy care law

Pregnancy centers, maternity home seek full restoration of First Amendment freedoms
Baby's Feet

NEW YORK — Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys Friday asked the full U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit to strike down the remainder of New York City’s anti-pregnancy care law, Local Law 17. A federal district court had invalidated the entire law, but a three-judge panel of the 2nd Circuit reinstated one vague provision in a 2–1 decision on Jan. 17. The dissenting judge, who would not have reinstated that provision, called the law “a bureaucrat’s dream.”

“Pro-life pregnancy care centers, which offer free help and hope to women and their unborn children, shouldn’t be punished by political allies of abortionists,” said Senior Legal Counsel Matt Bowman. “The 2nd Circuit panel rightly affirmed that the city cannot force pregnancy centers to communicate some city-crafted messages that encourage women to go elsewhere, but the panel nonetheless left one provision in place that still does that. Because this type of compelled speech is not constitutional, we are asking the full 2nd Circuit to strike it down.”

“The 2nd Circuit panel did not provide any clarity as to whom the remaining provision of the law applies and when the city’s language must be recited,” Bowman explained. “Pregnant women should have free access to the help they need. They should not be discouraged from getting it by a law intentionally designed to deter them from making fully informed choices about their pregnancy.”

In a concurrence and dissent accompanying the panel’s decision, Circuit Judge Richard Wesley wrote, “Local Law 17 is a bureaucrat’s dream. It contains a deliberately ambiguous set of standards guiding its application, thereby providing a blank check to New York City officials to harass or threaten legitimate activity.”

“For the first time, under the panel majority’s decision in this case…the government may compel speech upon noncommercial speakers who have committed no wrongdoing, merely because those speakers want to discuss a controversial public issue--in this case, abortion,” the petition to the full 2nd Circuit states. “Consequently, the panel decision disrupts the uniformity of this Court’s decisions, which until now have stood vigilant against compelled speech and have imposed high standards against government discretion to burden politically disfavored speech.”

Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg signed Bill 371-A into law in March 2011 after it passed the city council. In July 2011, a federal district court issued an order that prohibited the city from enforcing its ordinance, which threatens pro-life pregnancy services centers that are not medical clinics with heavy fines and possible closure if they don’t provide printed and oral notices crafted by the city that encourage women to go elsewhere. The city appealed that loss. Two federal courts have issued injunctions against similar bills in Maryland.

Attorney M. Todd Parker of Moskowitz & Book, LLP is local counsel in the case, Pregnancy Care Center of New York v. City of New York, which the 2nd Circuit consolidated with The Evergreen Association v. City of New York.

  • Pronunciation guide: Bowman (BOH’-min)


Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith.


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Matt Bowman
Matt Bowman
Senior Counsel, Director of Regulatory Practice
Matt Bowman serves as senior counsel and director of regulatory practice at Alliance Defending Freedom, where he focuses on the impact of administrative law on religious freedom, the sanctity of life, and family.