The City Council passed legislation yesterday requiring the city’s two dozen or so unlicensed “pregnancy crisis centers” to disclose whether they provide or offer referrals to emergency contraception, abortion and prenatal care.
The bill’s passage was met with jubilation by women’s advocates, who charge vulnerable pregnant women are hoodwinked and frightened by anti-abortion ideologues masquerading as legitimate medical providers. The centers must disclose what they offer in advertising, signage and oral communications.
“This is a straightforward consumer protection issue,” that will result in women being better able to choose and obtain appropriate medical care early in their pregnancies, said Sonia Ossorio, executive director of the city branch of the National Organization for Women.
A lawyer for the Expectant Mother Care Frontline Pregnancy Centers, which contends the legislation is “speech strangling,” has vowed to challenge the law.
“You cannot compel speech,” said Tiffany Barrans, legal director for the America Center for Law and Justice, which is representing 13 of the centers.
The right to control what patients can expect from a facility could wind up before the Supreme Court.
Government has more leeway to control commercial speech than political speech, but in January, a Maryland court struck down a similar statute in Baltimore, after anti-abortionists insisted that their pregnancy centers were not commercial, but ideological, explained Caitlin Borgmann, professor of law at CUNY.
“We are confident that our legislation is viewpoint neutral and will stand up to constitutional questions,” said Planned Parenthood Vice-President of Public Affairs Traci Perry.
Planned Parenthood, which has three clinics in New York, and supported the legislation because the anti-abortion centers are often designed to mimic Planned Parenthoods, Perry said.
“They all wear white coats so you’ll think they’re doctors. They set up across the street from us in the Bronx and occupy the same building that we do in Brooklyn,” Perry said.
Regardless, the NYC law “still violates the First Amendments and is still compelled speech,” which is unconstitutional, speech, countered CeCe Heil, the law center’s senior counsel.
Chris Slattery, president of the pregnancy centers, complained that he had been “ridiculed by a gang of hooligans who just stole our constitutional rights.”
The center for law and justice plans to file a suit after Mayor Michael Bloomberg signs the law, which he is expected to do within the month.
(With Erik Ortiz)