New York Faces Lawsuit Over Law Attacking Pregnancy Centers

State   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Mar 21, 2011   |   12:57PM   |   New York, NY

New York City faces a new lawsuit, filed late Friday, over a law its city council passed and Mayor Michael Bloomberg signed that targets pregnancy centers helping women find abortion alternatives.

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 of New York 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.”

ADF Legal Counsel Matt Bowman commented on the law and the lawsuit in remarks to

“Pregnancy centers, which offer real help and hope to women, shouldn’t be punished by political allies of the abortion industry,” he said.  “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.”

Bloomberg signed Bill 371-A into law Wednesday and 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. That gives pregnancy centers in New York hope that the legal precedent will be used in their case.

Bowman said the 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.” He indicated 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.

“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,” Bowman explained. “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.”

Bowman concluded: “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. The same cannot be said for Planned Parenthood.”

Bloomberg signed the bill just after a new report indicated 41 percent of pregnancies in New York City end in abortion. The report, which was recently exposed at a press conference by Archbishop Timothy Dolan and an interfaith coalition of religious leaders, showed an abortion rate of 60% for African American women and that 90% of all abortions in New York City were performed on ethnic minorities.

In January, a federal judge struck down a Baltimore law that was the subject of a lawsuit brought by the Archdiocese of Baltimore because it unfairly attacks pregnancy centers that provide women with abortion alternatives.

The judge granted summary judgment finding the anti-pregnancy center law is viewpoint-based and impossible to render constitutional under the First Amendment. He dismissed without prejudice all other claims and found a couple of the plaintiffs lacked standing (including the Archbishop and the Catholic church that provides space for one of the pregnancy centers that filed suit) but the ruling is viewed as a substantial victory by pro-life advocates.

Early in March, a federal judge struck down most of a law Montgomery County, Maryland officials passed that targets pregnancy centers and requires them to post signs that may turn potential clients away.

ADF is representing two centers and a maternity home in the lawsuit, Pregnancy Care Center of New York v. City of New York, filed with the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York. M. Todd Parker of Moskowitz & Book, LLP, is local counsel.