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New York City sued over law targeting pregnancy care centers

New code requires centers to post, publish notices advising women to seek help elsewhere, but law does not affect abortion facilities

NEW YORK — Alliance Defense Fund attorneys filed suit against the city of New York Friday over a new law that threatens non-medical, pro-life pregnancy care centers with steep fines and potential closure if they don’t post signs and publish in their ads that the city health department encourages women to go elsewhere.

“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. “Attacks on pregnancy centers are an ideologically motivated attempt to distract from the growing national scandals in the abortion industry. For years, abortionists have preyed on women and girls for profit.  Now pro-abortion politicians are trying to give women fewer choices.”

Mayor Michael Bloomberg signed Bill 371-A into law Wednesday and reportedly said, “It may be unconstitutional, but I am going to sign it anyway.” Two federal courts have issued injunctions against similar bills in Maryland. ADF-allied attorneys were involved in both cases, with ADF attorneys directly representing the pregnancy care center in the most recent ruling. None of the laws affect abortionists, such as Planned Parenthood.

The New York City law defines a “pregnancy services center” as any facility with a primary purpose of serving women who are or may be pregnant and offers ultrasounds or medical exams, or “has the appearance of a licensed medical facility.” The law’s “appearance” definition is broad enough to cover homes that serve homeless, abused, and abandoned women but don’t function as pregnancy centers. For that reason, ADF is representing two centers and a maternity home in the lawsuit, Pregnancy Care Center of New York v. City of New York, filed in federal district court. M. Todd Parker of Moskowitz & Book, LLP, is local counsel.

Specifically, the notices must tell women whether a licensed medical provider is on staff (even though state law does not require medical providers at non-medical centers) and that the city health department encourages women to consult with one.  The notices must also state whether the center provides referrals for abortion, “emergency contraception,” and prenatal care, but the law does not require abortionists to make any disclosures in favor of abortion alternatives. The bilingual signs must be posted in multiple places, and the information must also be provided “in any advertisement promoting the services of such pregnancy services center in clear and prominent letter type” and in whatever size and style the consumer affairs commissioner demands.

Failure to post the signs the law requires can result in fines of up to $1,000 for the first day of violation and up to $2,500 for each day thereafter. After three days of violation within a two-year period, the commissioner can shut down the center with the assistance of police. Other parts of the law allow for additional fines and imprisonment.

“Plaintiffs desire to offer their free, non-medical, non-commercial assistance to women without the threat of Bill 371-A forcing them to recite government-mandated speech, to be priced out of advertising to women in need, and to face fines, closure and jail time,” the lawsuit states.

“At a time when New Yorkers believe the city’s abortion ratio to be too high, it’s absurd to see the city work with pro-abortion groups to ensure that the public is ‘protected’ from the ‘threat’ of these compassionate, caring, nonprofit groups that exist specifically because they oppose harm to women and their babies,” said Bowman. “The same cannot be said for Planned Parenthood.”

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.

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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.