Abortion foes are celebrating a federal judge’s decision to temporarily bar New York from imposing a new ordinance on pregnancy crisis centers that would require them to post signs and clearly advertise whether they offered abortions and emergency contraceptives.
Critics argued the law is unconstitutional because it violated the centers’ right to free speech and unfairly singled out anti-abortion groups and not places like Planned Parenthood. But supporters say the law will strengthen consumer protection by cracking down on false or misleading advertising.
Jay Sekulow, chief counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice, which represented some pregnancy centers in the case, called the ruling a “significant victory.”
“What’s encouraging is that the court clearly understood that this measure is not only wrong, but violates the First Amendment rights of our clients,” he said in a statement posted on the group’s website. “
His joy may be short-lived, however, as the injunction is in force only while the case is litigated.
The city passed the law in March after discovering that some anti-abortion groups “engage in deceptive practices” in the way they labeled themselves as pregnancy crisis centers to try and prevent women from getting abortions or emergency birth control. The city argued that the law was constitutional because the centers’ speech was commercial, which is subject to regulation.
The law was set to go into effect Thursday until Judge William H. Pauley III ruled that the city's definition of commercial speech was too broad and “particularly offensive to free speech principles.”
Pauley rejected the city’s attempt to regard an assembly of people as part of the definition of an economic commodity.
“Under such a view, flyers for political rallies, religious literature promoting church attendance, or similar forms of expression would constitute commercial speech merely because they assemble listeners for the speaker,” he wrote in his opinion.
“Accepting that proposition would permit the government to inject its own message into virtually all speech designed to advocate a message to more than a single individual and thereby eviscerate the First Amendment’s protections.”
Sekulow said the center will now focus on making the injunction permanent and preparing for an expected appeal by the city.
“At the end of the day, though, we’re confident this troubling measure will never be enacted,” he said. “And, with the issuance of this preliminary injunction, we took an important step toward ensuring that the constitutional rights of crisis pregnancy centers in New York City remain protected.”