NYC Gets Second Lawsuit Over Law Attacking Pregnancy Centers

State   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Mar 24, 2011   |   5:12PM   |   New York, NY

New York City is now officially facing a second lawsuit over a new ordinance the city council approved and Mayor Mike Bloomberg signed that places hefty restrictions on pregnancy centers.

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.

Earlier this week, 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.”

Now, officials with the American Center for Law and Justice today 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.

“Since this ordinance was first proposed, we have put the city council and the mayor on notice that it was unconstitutional and that we were prepared to challenge it immediately if passed.  We’re now moving forward with that challenge,” CeCe Heil, ACLJ Senior Counsel, told LifeNews.

“This measure is troubling because it violates crisis pregnancy centers’ First and Fourteenth Amendment rights, specifically protected by the constitution.  We are committed to protecting the rights of our clients and are urging the federal court to halt implementation of this ordinance and declare it unconstitutional.  Similar ordinances have already been struck down in federal court and we have no doubt that this ordinance will be rejected as well,” the attorney added.

The ACLJ represents EMC Frontline Pregnancy Centers and AAA Pregnancy Problems Center which operate a total of 13 crisis pregnancy centers across New York City. The pro-life legal group filed the lawsuit today on their behalf in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. 

The lawsuit comes ont he same day EMC announced its center in South Bronx was a target of vicious vandalism and burglary.
The suit contends that the ordinance violates the constitutionally protected rights to freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and association, freedom of the press, and due process of law, guaranteed to the plaintiffs by the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, as well as the New York Constitution.
The ordinance requires crisis pregnancy centers to disclose in advertisements and in their facilities a list of services they do not provide, such as abortions or emergency contraception – it also requires the centers to make disclosures verbally. The lawsuit contends that at a minimum, the ordinance “unconstitutionally compels Plaintiffs to speak messages that they have not chosen for themselves, with which they do not agree, and that distract from and detract from the messages they have chosen to speak.” 

The ACLJ asks the court to keep the ordinance from being implemented while the lawsuit proceeds.  The suit seeks injunctive relief, in the form of preliminary and permanent injunctions, and urges the court to declare the law unconstitutional.  The ACLJ is being assisted in the case by Christopher Ferrara, New York Litigation Counsel to American Catholic Lawyers Association, who is serving as local counsel.

ADF Legal Counsel Matt Bowman, earlier this week, 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.

Bloomberg signed the bill just after a new report indicated 41 percentof 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.