New York Times: Judge Blocks City’s Crisis Pregnancy Center Law
By David Chen
July 14, 2011
Original available here
Scolding city officials for supporting a law he called “offensive to free speech principles,” a federal judge on Wednesday temporarily barred New York City from enforcing a new law that would require crisis pregnancy centers to disclose more information about their services.
The law, which had the strong backing of Christine C. Quinn, the City Council speaker, and Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, was scheduled to go into effect on Thursday. It would have required such centers to detail whether they provided abortions or emergency contraception, and whether they had a licensed medical provider on-site.
The City Council had enacted the law in March, framing it as a matter of consumer protection and truth in advertising, not long after Naral Pro-Choice New York released a report saying it had found crisis pregnancy centers using deceptive tactics and false claims to dissuade women from having abortions.
But opponents of the law argued that it violated free speech rights and was motivated chiefly by politics. And in an often tart 22-page ruling, Judge William H. Pauley III essentially sided with the opponents, writing that the city’s definition of commercial speech was too broad.
As a result, he concluded, because the new law “relates to the provision of emergency contraception and abortion — among the most controversial issues in our public discourse — the risk of discriminatory enforcement is high.”
City officials are expected to appeal the decision. But opponents, citing a similar law that was struck down in Baltimore recently, applauded the judge’s decision and expressed confidence that the law would never be carried out.
“We think this is a resounding defeat of the Gestapo-like tactics of Christine Quinn and Mayor Bloomberg,” said Chris Slattery, founder of Expectant Mother Care/EMC FrontLine Pregnancy Centers, a plaintiff that operates about a dozen centers in the city. “This is one of the most important First Amendment decisions in American history, and will very strongly boost pro-life free speech initiatives and protect pregnancy centers not only here in New York, but across America.”
Judge Pauley did not mince words, either, with the law’s opponents. He wrote that “the prevention of deception related to reproductive health care is of paramount importance” and that unlicensed ultrasound technicians “operating in pseudo-medical settings can spawn significant harms to pregnant, at-risk women who believe they are receiving care.”
So the plaintiffs’ claims that such deception simply did not exist “feigns ignorance of the obvious,” he wrote.
To address those concerns, Judge Pauley took the unusual tack of making a few policy suggestions. One was that the city convey its message through a public service advertising campaign; another was that the city impose requirements, or lobby the State Legislature, to require licensing for ultrasound technicians. He noted that two states, New Mexico and Oregon, required ultrasounds to be performed by a licensed professional.
But in a statement, Ms. Quinn dismissed the judge’s suggestions, saying they were “completely unworkable and would create even more legal problems.”
She added, “In issuing this injunction, the court has failed to protect pregnant women in an extremely vulnerable time in their lives.”
In an interview on Wednesday, Councilwoman Jessica S. Lappin, the law’s chief sponsor, expressed disappointment, but vowed to press ahead. “The judge got it wrong,” she said. “This is an important measure to protect women from dangerous and deceptive practices, and we’re not going to give up. We’re going to keep fighting.”