Women-Helping Centers in Court to Battle New York City Ordinance

By Dave Andrusko

Attorneys for women-helping centers in New York City appeared in federal court Wednesday to ask for a preliminary injunction against an ordinance schedule to go into effect July 14 that they assert is a blatant infringement of their free speech rights.

When Mayor Michael Bloomberg signed the law, he famously said, “I know it’s unconstitutional, but I’m going to sign it anyway.” The hearing was before Judge William H. Pauley in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.

Bill 371 is both more sweeping and costlier for non-compliance than laws passed in Maryland, which have been stricken or modified by federal judges. It’s not just that crisis pregnancy centers are compelled to indicate whether they provide abortion and contraception or makes referrals for them (in notices whose size and letter type is whatever the consumer affairs commissioner demands), and whether there is a licensed medical provider on site (even though state law does not require medical providers at non-medical centers). The forced disclosures must also be in their advertizing, literature, and interactions with clients–in both Spanish and English; be posted in multiple places; and with penalties starting at $1,000 for the first day and up to $2,500 for each day thereafter, according to attorneys for a number of crisis pregnancy centers in the city.

Heartbeat International sent out an alert just prior to and after the hearing. It described the “unconstitutional legislation” as without question, “ the biggest threat facing our pregnancy help center network since we started our pro-life outreach 40 years ago.”

“If the law is enforced it will severely undermine the only alternative to abortion that nearly 5 million women living in New York City currently have! As it stands right now, 41% of all pregnancies in NYC end in abortion—making it one of the highest abortion rates in the country,” Heartbeat International said

The alert also quoted from their attorney CeCe Heil, of the American Center for Law and Justice.

“There’s Supreme Court precedent that protects the free speech rights of our client – to express a message of their own choosing, and reject a message with which they disagree,” she said. “The New York City law violates those protections and we’re hopeful that the court will step in and put a stop to the enactment of this disturbing measure. With the law set to take effect in a matter of weeks, time is of the essence.”

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