Diocese, Pregnancy Resource Centers Challenge Austin Ordinance

By Dave Andrusko

And Austin makes four. Yesterday the Diocese of Austin and three Pregnancy Resource Centers (PRCs) sued the City of Austin, arguing that a city ordinance passed last year violates their constitutional rights to free speech and freedom of religion.

The ordinance, very much similar to similar ordinances struck down in three other locales–New York, Baltimore, and Montgomery County, Maryland–mandates that the centers  display 8½-by-11-inch entrance signs, in English and Spanish, that says the pregnancy center does not provide or refer for abortions or birth control services. Those who violate the ordinance can be charged with a Class C misdemeanor, punishable by fines of up to $450.  According to the American-Statesman newspaper, to date only one center has “reluctantly” posted the sign.

The plaintiffs are the Roman Catholic Diocese of Austin, Catholic Charities of Central Texas, Austin Pregnancy Resource Center, and South Austin Pregnancy Resource Center

 The ordinance compelling speech is part of a coordinated nationwide campaign by NARAL, specifically designed to deter women from visiting PRCs and to restrict their free speech rights, according to Liberty Institute which is representing the plaintiffs.

 As is the case with the other three jurisdictions, there is no requirement forcing abortion clinic to post signs or provide disclaimers stating what services they do not provide for women.

 “The decision by the Austin City Council to compel false and misleading speech is a clear violation of the pregnancy centers’ constitutional rights and is a despicable ploy to deter women and families from using these charitable centers,” said Jonathan Saenz, director of Legislative Affairs at Liberty Institute. “The City of Austin is forcing a national pro-abortion agenda on its citizens at the expense of women and their unborn children, who greatly benefit from the free pregnancy-related services offered at these centers.”

 Among other services, “the centers say they offer free pregnancy tests, adoption counseling, parenting classes and child care supplies to women with unplanned pregnancies,” writes Sarah Coppola of the American-Statesman. “They said they are upfront with clients about the services they offer.”

  Judge Raul A. Gonzalez, former Texas Supreme Court Justice and co-counsel for Plaintiffs, said “The unlawful compelled speech that NARAL and the City of Austin are forcing on PRCs is nothing more than an attempt to limit the options offered to women in pregnancy situations.” He added, “Rather than allow women to actually have a choice and consider all of their options, NARAL and the City of Austin have chosen to bully these non-profit pregnancy resource centers who provide valuable services to women. Less competition means more money, and the abortion industry is all about the money.”

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