A settlement that a federal district court approved Wednesday protects the right of pro-life pregnancy care centers in New York City to serve women without being forced to speak or post messages that are contrary to their pro-life beliefs or that direct women away from the services the centers offer.
The settlement protects the centers’ constitutionally protected freedoms that were in jeopardy because of Local Law 17, an anti-pregnancy care law that the courts mostly invalidated through the ADF lawsuit Pregnancy Care Center of New York v. City of New York. An appeals court affirmed most of a district court’s ruling that had struck down the law but reinstated one vague provision in November 2014. The settlement resolves the remaining concerns of the centers.
“New York City’s pro-life pregnancy care centers should be able to offer free help and hope to the women and children that they serve without unconstitutional interference from the government, and this settlement allows that to happen,” said ADF Senior Counsel Matt Bowman. “The centers will be able to operate without being forced to post or express any messages that conflict with their pro-life beliefs or that encourage women to go elsewhere. The centers have also preserved their right to defend themselves in court again if the city discriminates against them.”
Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg signed Bill 371-A into law in March 2011 after it passed the city council. In July 2011, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York issued an order that prohibited the city from enforcing its ordinance, which threatened pro-life pregnancy services centers that are not medical clinics with heavy fines and possible closure if they didn’t provide printed and oral notices crafted by the city that emphasize abortion and encourage women to go elsewhere.
The city appealed that loss, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit affirmed most of the ruling but reinstated one city requirement that the centers recite on their walls and in their ads that they lack medical licenses. The 2nd Circuit also authorized the city to use factors of unknown number and quality to determine which centers must comply.
The settlement clarifies the confusion in two ways. It acknowledges the legitimacy of pro-life centers offering women free pregnancy test kits that the women administer themselves without triggering burdensome disclosures just because of that practice. The settlement also clarifies that medical pro-life centers will not face any of the law’s penalties if they use nurses or other licensed professionals to supervise or provide specific medical services like ultrasounds. Using such professionals is already a common practice among medical pro-life centers.
In the settlement, the city acknowledges that the court struck most of the law’s provisions, and that the centers can go back to court if the city ever targets the centers again in violation of the settlement agreement.
Attorney M. Todd Parker of Moskowitz & Book, LLP, served as local counsel in the case on behalf of the pregnancy care centers.