Wall Street Journal: Council to Target Pregnancy Centers
By Michael Howard Saul
February 25, 2011
Original available here
The New York City Council plans to pass legislation next week requiring centers that cater to pregnant women to say whether they offer abortions even though a similar law was recently found to be unconstitutional.
City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and the bill's primary sponsor, Council Member Jessica Lappin, said they are confident the New York bill will pass legal muster because it's significantly different than the law that was struck down.
But abortion opponents insist the city's bill still infringes on free speech rights. They warn it will draw New York into a costly court battle it can little afford while grappling with multimillion-dollar budget deficits.
The legislation—a favorite of Ms. Quinn—would require all "pregnancy services centers" to disclose whether they provide abortions, emergency contraception and prenatal care, or make referrals to organizations that do. Centers also would have to say if they have a licensed medical provider on site.
The information would have to be posted in English and Spanish at the centers and in advertisements. In some cases, a center employee would have to make the disclosure orally, if, for example, a client asked for an abortion.
Similar local laws have begun to proliferate across the country at the urging of NARAL, the abortion rights group. Austin, Texas, has adopted a disclosure law, and another has come under challenge in Montgomery County, Md., but the recent federal decision appears to be the first real test of the laws.
On Jan. 28 in federal court in Maryland, U.S. District Judge Marvin Garbis threw out a Baltimore city ordinance, writing, "Whether a provider of pregnancy-related services is 'pro-life' or 'pro-choice,' it is for the provider—not the government—to decide when and how to discuss abortion and birth-control methods."
"The Government cannot, consistent with the First Amendment, require a 'pro-life' pregnancy-related service center to post a sign," the judge wrote.
Chris Slattery, president of Expectant Mother Care Frontline Pregnancy Centers, which operates about a dozen facilities in the city that would be affected by the bill, said the council's willingness to move forward after the judge's ruling "shows that they're driven by blatant and blind ideology."
"They could care less about trampling on the First Amendment rights of their political opponents," Mr. Slattery said.
Ms. Lappin, a Manhattan Democrat, said her bill is "much more content-neutral" and "broader" than the Baltimore ordinance, which targeted only centers that do not offer abortions.
"It absolutely does not trample on First Amendment rights and it's ridiculous for (critics) to make that claim," Ms. Lappin said.
Ms. Lappin said many of the centers mask an anti-abortion agenda in hopes of duping women into believing they're full-service reproductive facilities.
Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, who sponsored the legislation when she was her city's council president, hopes the law will prevail on appeal, her spokesman said.
But the federal judge's ruling has emboldened abortion opponents nationwide and appears to be influencing lawmakers around the country. In Washington, Rob McKenna, the state's attorney general, warned the state Legislature that a similar bill may not be constitutional.
Members of Mayor Michael Bloomberg's administration have voiced support for the city bill, but an aide to Mr. Bloomberg said the mayor is still reviewing the matter.
Thomas Glessner, president of the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates, a Virginia-based group that provides legal counsel and training to about 1,200 crisis-pregnancy centers nationwide, said he's dumbfounded that New York's council still plans to move forward.
"Why are they proceeding with something that's already been declared unconstitutional in another jurisdiction?" he said. "It's foolish."
Council Member Fernando Cabrera, a Bronx Democrat who is opposed to the legislation, said he's concerned about the legal fees. "Financially, it's a bad deal. Constitutionally, it does not hold water," he said. "I'm very afraid when the freedoms of our constituents are being taken away."
If abortion opponents are concerned about the city taxpayers getting hit with legal fees, Ms. Quinn said, they shouldn't file a lawsuit.
"Why is the idea of disclosure so offensive to these folks?" she said. "Stand up and say you are what you are. If you're so proud of the work that you're doing, say it."