AUSTIN, Texas — The city of Austin has exchanged one constitutionally problematic sign law that affects pro-life centers with another, prompting the Alliance Defense Fund and two pro-life organizations to seek a new emergency order against the law in federal court Tuesday. In November of last year, the city agreed to take a closer look at its law in the wake of a lawsuit filed on behalf of Austin LifeCare, a pregnancy resource center, but ADF attorneys explain that the new law is as bad as the one it replaced.
“Pregnancy centers, which offer real help and hope to women, shouldn’t be punished by political allies of the abortion industry,” said ADF Legal Counsel Matt Bowman. “The city should recognize that using a sleight-of-hand to force pro-life centers to post the message the city wants does not solve the First Amendment problems with the law. Courts around the country have been striking these types of laws down.”
A federal judge struck down a similar Baltimore ordinance in January of last year. In addition, ADF attorneys secured an initial injunction against an ordinance in Montgomery County, Md., in March of last year and later won an injunction that suspends an ordinance in New York City.
In 2010, the Austin City Council passed an ordinance specifically to restrict the operations of pro-life centers that help women choose birth but that do not promote abortion. The ordinance required centers such as LifeCare to display multiple signs at the entrance of the center before any staff had a chance to talk to women--signs that state that the center does not provide practices such as abortions. The ordinance imposed severe fines for failure to post the signs.
The revised ordinance continues to require pro-life centers to post negative signs simply because the centers speak to women about pregnancy, but the ordinance effectively exempts abortion facilities.
Under the ordinance, pro-life centers that don’t offer medical services must post negative signs even if the centers don’t claim they are medical. Pro-life centers like LifeCare that do have part-time, licensed doctors supervising ultrasounds must still post a sign declaring that the facility is not licensed to offer ultrasounds--even though there is no such thing as a facility license to perform ultrasounds, and, therefore, centers cannot obtain such licenses.
In the wake of the city’s failure to adequately revise its law, ADF attorneys together with lead counsel Samuel B. Casey, managing director of the Jubilee Campaign’s Law of Life Project, and co-counsel Greg Terra and Stephen Casey, allied attorneys with the Texas Center for the Defense of Life, filed an amended complaint and motion for preliminary injunction in Austin LifeCare v. City of Austin with the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, Austin Division. They also filed a motion for a temporary restraining order that, if granted, would immediately prevent enforcement of the law.
“Instead of engaging in political maneuvers, the city should see pro-life centers for what they are: an outreach to women in their own city who need real help and hope,” Samuel Casey said.
ADF is a legal alliance of Christian attorneys and like-minded organizations defending the right of people to freely live out their faith. Launched in 1994, ADF employs a unique combination of strategy, training, funding, and litigation to protect and preserve religious liberty, the sanctity of life, marriage, and the family.