Pregnancy Center Leader Delighted by Ruling Against NYC Law

State   Steven Ertelt   Jul 14, 2011   |   11:25AM    New York, NY

Chris Slattery has spent decades trying to bring abortion alternatives to women in the famous city that has become the abortion capital of the United States with the highest abortion rates. He’s delighted by yesterday’s ruling striking down a law targeting the centers.

As LifeNews.com reported, a federal judge approved a request filed by two pro-life legal groups for the New York pregnancy centers for a temporary injunction against a law that would fine centers if they don’t post signs abortion advocates want them to put up to dissuade women from seeking alternatives.

Slattery, the founder and Director of EMC Frontline, told LifeNews he is “thrilled by Judge William Pauley’s decision.”

“A victory was won in NYC today!  A judge has issued a ruling granting a preliminary injunction prohibiting a new pro-abortion law from taking effect in New York City.  The law would have placed harsh restrictions on pregnancy help centers offering women alternatives to abortion,” he added.

The ordinance requires crisis pregnancy centers to post signs in the lobbies of their counseling centers, add extensive additional written language to their advertising materials, and to provide oral statements during both “in person” and telephone conversations regarding the services offered by crisis pregnancy centers. The requirements apply only to crisis pregnancy centers and not to abortion businesses like Planned Parenthood.

“We are grateful to the ACLJ, our friends and supporters, and God for allowing us to continue our life-saving work,” Slattery said. “This ruling should nip in the bud the nationwide NARAL and Planned Parenthood effort to cripple pro-life pregnancy care centers.  EMC will continue to fight to permanently enjoin the NYC Local Law #17.”

“The ACLJ will continue to urge the federal district court to permanently block any enforcement of the law, pointing out that the law is a violation of pregnancy help center’s constitutional rights: especially the right to freedom of speech,” Slattery added. “Complete defeat of this law is critical.  If the law is enforced, it will severely undermine the only alternative to abortion that nearly 5 million women living in New York City currently have. As it stands right now, 41% of all pregnancies in NYC end in abortion – making it one of the highest abortion rates in the country.”

EMC has served over 110,000 clients since 1985, with over 40,000 certain saves from abortion over the past 26 years, and was the first full-time pregnancy resource center in New York City with 12 locations in four NYC boroughs.

Judge Pauley, of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, concluded the law violates free speech saying the law’s “over-expansiveness is evident from its very language.” He was especially critical of the City’s desire to single-out crisis pregnancy centers with the new law.

“Defendants’ second argument–that Plaintiffs engage in commercial speech because they are provided an audience to whom they can espouse their beliefs–is particularly offensive to free speech principles,” the court declared.  “While Defendants apparently regard an assembly of people as an economic commodity, this Court does not.  Under such a view, flyers for political rallies, religious literature promoting church attendance, or similar forms of expression would constitute commercial speech merely because they assemble listeners for the speaker.”

“This Court will not upend established free speech protections in service of Defendants’ overly broad definition of commercial speech,” the judge added. “Local Law 17′s fundamental flaw is that … permits the Commission to classify a facility as a ‘pregnancy services center’ based solely on unspecified criteria.”

The city council approved the bill on a 39-9-1 vote and the ordinance that would place stringent limits on the advertising pregnancy centers use and require them to post signs designed to dissuade women from seeking their abortion alternatives services.

Alliance Defense Fund attorneys filed suit against the city over the law that the pro-life legal group says “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.”

Officials with the American Center for Law and Justice also filed a federal lawsuit challenging the ordinance. The ACLJ represents numerous crisis pregnancy centers and contends the law violates the U.S. Constitution as well as the New York State Constitution.

“This is a resounding victory underscoring what we have argued all along – this law which forces crisis pregnancy centers to adopt and express views about abortion and contraception that they strongly disagree with is constitutionally flawed,” said CeCe Heil, Senior Counsel of the ACLJ. “The court clearly understood that this law punishes pro-life advocates. We’re confident that this law will never see the light of day and that the constitutional protections afforded to crisis pregnancy centers will be protected.”It remains to be seen whether the City of New York appeals today’s decision to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals.  In the meantime, the case will continue with discovery and, ultimately, consideration of motions already filed to grant a permanent injunction against the City.