Appeals Court Strikes Down Most of NYC Anti-Pregnancy Center Law

pregnant belly
A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit Friday affirmed most of a district court’s order striking down a New York City anti-pregnancy center ordinance. (Frank de Kleine/Flickr/Creative Commons)

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit Friday affirmed most of a district court’s order striking down a New York City anti-pregnancy center ordinance, which one of the judges called “a bureaucrat’s dream.”

Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys, who represent two pregnancy centers and a maternity home, say they and their clients are evaluating their options for appeal regarding the one provision that the appeals panel reinstated in its 2–1 decision.

“Pro-life pregnancy centers, which offer free help and hope to women and their pre-born children, shouldn’t be punished by political allies of the abortion industry,” said Senior Legal Counsel Matt Bowman, who argued before the court in 2012. “The appeals court rightly affirmed that the city cannot force pregnancy centers to communicate some city-crafted messages that encourage women to go elsewhere, but the court left one provision in place that still does that. Because this type of compelled speech is not constitutional, we are considering our options for appeal regarding the remaining provision of New York City’s ordinance.”

“The district court’s order kept the city from enforcing the totality of its anti-speech ordinance, which some city officials designed to deter women from receiving the help they need to make fully informed choices about their pregnancy,” Bowman explained. “The 2nd Circuit reinstated one provision of the ordinance but did not provide any clarity as to whom it applies and when the city’s language must be recited. The district court was right about the vagueness of the entire ordinance. It should be completely invalidated.”

In a concurrence and dissent, which argues that the court was right to strike down two provisions of Local Law 17 but should have struck down the third as well, Circuit Judge Richard Wesley wrote, “Local Law 17 is a bureaucrat’s dream. It contains a deliberately ambiguous set of standards guiding its application, thereby providing a blank check to New York City officials to harass or threaten legitimate activity.”

In July 2011, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York issued an order that prohibits the city from enforcing its ordinance, which threatens pro-life pregnancy services centers that are not medical clinics with heavy fines and possible closure if they don’t provide printed and oral notices crafted by the city that encourage women to go elsewhere. The city appealed that loss.

Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg signed Bill 371-A into law in March 2011 after it passed the city council. Two federal courts have issued injunctions against similar bills in Maryland.

Attorney M. Todd Parker of Moskowitz & Book, LLP is local counsel in the case, Pregnancy Care Center of New York v. City of New York, which the 2nd Circuit consolidated with The Evergreen Association v. City of New York.

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