The Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit struck down portions of New York City’s Local Law 17 in The Evergreen Association v. City of New York, but held that the definition of “pregnancy service centers” wasn’t impermissibly vague.
Local Law 17 required pregnancy centers to disclose whether they have licensed medical professional on staff, whether the center provides referrals for abortion, emergency contraception, or prenatal care, and that the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene encourages pregnant women to consult with a licensed doctor, according to the opinion.
One of the issues in this case is whether the definition of ‘pregnancy services centers’ was too vague and would compel them to speech they didn’t endorse.
'Pregnancy Services Centers' Definition Not Impermissibly Vague
The policy behind Local Law 17 is to prevent pregnancy services centers from deceptive practices, like letting clients think they're being treated by licensed medical professionals when they're not. Some of the pregnancy centers at issue are Christian organizations that oppose abortion, according to Courthouse News.
By definition, "pregnancy services center" means any facility that primarily serves pregnant women. The definition includes centers that offer ultrasounds, prenatal care, and most importantly, give the appearance of being a licensed medical facility. The plaintiffs in Evergreen argued that by requiring pregnancy services centers without licensed medical staff to post the same notices as centers with licensed medical staff violated their First Amendment rights.
However, the Second Circuit opined that the factor of "giving an appearance of a licensed medical facility" to define the centers gives sufficient notice that all centers of that sort are included within the statute and eliminates any discriminatory enforcement.
So under the ruling, any pregnancy services center that gives the appearance of a licensed medical facility or offers mostly pregnancy-related services will still have to inform visitors about the availability of licensed medical staff.
Portions of the Law Struck Down
Although the Second Circuit reinstated the portion of Local Law 17 that requires pregnancy services centers to inform visitors about available licensed medical staff, it struck down portions of the law requiring them to disclose whether they provide abortion, abortion referrals, prenatal care, and emergency contraceptives. The court also struck down the requirement that the centers must inform clients about the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene's policy of encouraging pregnant women to consult with a licensed doctor.
Similarly, the Fourth Circuit also struck down Baltimore's law that required "crisis pregnancy centers" a.k.a pro-life centers to post "no-abortion" signs because the statute violated the First Amendment.
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- NYC pregnancy centers win free speech appeal (World Magazine)
- Fifth Circuit Mulls Free Speech Rights Under Texas Sonogram Bill (FindLaw's U.S. Fifth Circuit Blog)
- First 20-Week Abortion Case Punted; Recess Appointments Doomed? (FindLaw's Supreme Court of the United States Blog)