NBC: Crisis Pregnancy Center Bill May Face Court Challenge
By Susannah Griffee
March 2, 2011
Original available here
The City Council approved legislation Wednesday that would require so-called crisis pregnancy centers to post information about their services, and opponents indicated they would challenge it in court.
The bill’s supporters, including the Planned Parenthood of New York City, NARAL Pro-Choice, and the New York Civil Liberties Union, contend that the crisis pregnancy centers deceive women by giving the impression that licensed medical doctors work at the facilities and by providing misleading and sometimes false information about abortion and birth control.
The legislation would require the centers to clearly disclose the types of pregnancy-related services they provide, including whether or not they have a licensed medical provider and provide prenatal care, abortions and emergency contraception.
“This bill is a truth in advertising measure,” said Councilwoman Jessica Lappin. “To be clear, it only regulates centers that are deliberately trying to deceive women into thinking they are in a medical facility when they are not.”
According to Roger Rathman of Planned Parenthood of New York, Planned Parenthood patients who accidentally go to the crisis pregnancy centers report that they were lead to believe that the centers employed actual medical doctors, when in fact they do not.
Women also reported receiving referrals for doctors’ appointments that were never made.
“Patients at these centers were told that abortions would increase their risk of breast cancer or adversely affect their ability to have children. They were also given wrong information about birth control and sonograms,” said Rathman.
The bill passed the council and Bloomberg is expected to sign it, but it is likely to face legal challenges.
Chris Slattery, president of Expectant Mother Care/Frontline Medical Services, which make up more than half of the city’s crisis pregnancy centers, hired the American Center for Law and Justice to challenge the law, according to senior counsel CeCe Heil.
The group plans to bring legal action against the bill as soon as Bloomberg signs it, and hopes to repeal the bill in the 120 days before it goes into effect. According to Heil, the ACLJ represents both Chris Slattery and Fred Trabulsi, of the Life Center of New York.
Similar bills in Texas and Maryland faced legal challenges, and a bill passed in Baltimore was ruled unconstitutional due to First Amendment issues.
"The difference between the Baltimore bill and the New York bill is just in the definitions," said Heil. "The council changed the language but the effect is still the same, it's still compelled speech."
According to Heil, the City Council hoped to avoid legal challenges by changing the language, but "didn't succeed."
"The bill just doesn't pass constitutional muster," said Heil.
The New York Civil Liberties Union said it believes the legislation "strikes an appropriate balance "between protecting the centers’ right to free speech and women’s right to complete and accurate information when they make critical decisions about their health.”
Councilmembers said they incorporated suggested revisions from the NYCLU into the bill in order to ensure that the centers’ First Amendment rights are protected.
However, Slattery believes that the law would violate First Amendment rights.
“NYC Council Poised today to Strip 1st Amendment rights from EMC Preg. Ctrs 4 daring to offer Free Ultrasounds & Pre-Natal,” Slattery tweeted earlier today.