Wall Street Journal: Mayor Signs Pregnancy Center Law, Setting Stage for Abortion Battle
By Michael Howard Saul
March 16, 2011
Original available here
Mayor Michael Bloomberg signed into law a bill that will require crisis pregnancy centers to disclose whether or not they offer abortions, a move that abortion-rights opponents vowed to challenge in court.
After listening to critics call the legislation a violation of First Amendment rights, the mayor said he has a clear conscience in signing it. He stopped short of saying whether he thought the law would survive a legal challenge.
“In terms of the intent of the bill, I’m not in favor of abortion — I’m in favor of a woman’s right to choose. Period,” Bloomberg said. “I have the same moral questions that I think any rational person would have. But, in the end, you have to make a decision, and I’ve always been pro-choice.”
The new law, which takes effect in 120 days, requires all pregnancy-services centers to disclose whether they provide abortions, emergency contraception and prenatal care. Those that do not offer such services will be required to make referrals to organizations that do. The information would have to be posted in English and Spanish, both at the centers and in any advertisements.
Bloomberg emphasized that the new law is aimed at “providing information.”
“Whether it goes far enough and whether it should cover other kinds of institutions is something that the City Council should consider, and if there’s appropriate need for further disclosure in other cases, we should provide it,” said the mayor as he prepared to sign the bill.
As for the legality of the new law, Bloomberg did not attempt to defend it from charges that is unconstitutional. “You can challenge it in court,” he told opponents. “If it’s constitutional or not, I just don’t know.”
Only two critics spoke at the bill signing: Chris Slattery, president of Expectant Mother Care Frontline Pregnancy Centers, which operates about a dozen centers in the city that would be affected by the law; and Tiffany Barrans, legal director for the American Center for Law & Justice, which is preparing a legal challenge.
Slattery said he founded his company 26 years ago, and in that time more than 40,000 girls and women have chosen “life.” He added: “The process of putting together this bill, I thought, was one of the most intolerant, unscientific, biased campaigns that I have ever seen in my life.”
Slattery said the majority of council members refused to meet with him, and no lawmakers or members of their staffs visited one of his centers.
“I think this bill is an attack on the weak,” Slattery said as he stood at a microphone across the room from Bloomberg. “It does not comply with justice and it does not uphold the constitution of the United States.”
A federal judge recently struck down a similar law in Baltimore on grounds that it violated the First Amendment. But Council Member Jessica Lappin, the chief sponsor of the New York City law, said she believes her legislation is sufficiently different.
“This bill that the mayor’s signing today is about truth in advertising,” she said. “This bill only regulates centers that are deceiving women into thinking that they are in a medical facility when they are not. And there is a real harm and danger to a woman who thinks she’s being seen by a doctor or a midwife or a nurse when she is not.”
Lappin said she is a strong proponent of First Amendment rights. “But you do not have the right to stand in scrubs and give medically inaccurate information to a woman who is seeking unbiased health care,” she said.