— Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys filed a petition
Monday with the U.S. Supreme Court that asks it to review an appeals court decision
which upheld part of New York City’s anti-pregnancy care law, Local Law 17. A federal district court invalidated the entire law, but a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit reinstated one vague provision in a 2–1 opinion in January.
“Pro-life pregnancy care centers, which offer free help and hope to women and their children, shouldn’t be punished by political allies of abortionists, but one provision of New York City’s law is still allowing that to happen,” said ADF Senior Legal Counsel Matt Bowman. “Although the 2nd Circuit panel rightly affirmed that the city cannot force pregnancy centers to communicate city-crafted messages that encourage women to go elsewhere, the panel nonetheless left one provision in place that still violates the First Amendment freedoms of these centers. For that reason, we are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down that provision just as the district court did.”
In a concurrence and dissent accompanying the 2nd Circuit panel’s decision, 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.”
The ADF petition explains that the U.S. Supreme Court affirms “the principle that ‘[t]he government may not prohibit the dissemination of ideas that it disfavors, nor compel the endorsement of ideas it approves….’ Such principles are especially acute where, as here, they deal with controversial topics such as abortion.” Moreover, the U.S. Supreme Court “has continually recognized, ‘if arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement is to be prevented, laws must provide explicit standards for those who apply them….’”
Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg signed Bill 371-A into law in March 2011 after it passed the city council. In July 2011, a federal district court issued an order that prohibited 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, and the 2nd Circuit reinstated the city’s requirement that the centers recite on their walls and in their ads that they lack medical licenses. The 2nd Circuit also authorized the city to use an unknown number and quality of factors to determine which centers must comply.
Other lawsuits challenging similar ordinances are currently taking place in Baltimore, San Francisco, and Austin, Texas. An ADF lawsuit succeeded in having another similar ordinance in Montgomery County, Md., completely struck down as unconstitutional.
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.