To combat deceptive practices, a New York City law required pregnancy services centers to disclose certain information: Medical provider on staff? Referrals for abortions and emergency contraception? And lastly, the “New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene encourages women who are or may be pregnant to consult with a licensed medical provider.”
On Wednesday July 13, the Southern District of New York preliminarily enjoined the law’s enforcement.
Why? The deceptive quasi-medical services at issue were provided gratis by centers that, for religious reasons, do not provide referrals for abortions or emergency contraception. As a result, the court found that the centers’ religiously motivated services could not be “commercial speech.” The court then found that the law was likely to crumble under strict scrutiny for “compel[ling] [the centers] to speak certain messages” and failing to meet the First Amendment’s narrow tailoring requirement for burdens on speech. The nail in the coffin came with a finding that the law’s definition of “pregnancy services center” was unconstitutionally vague as the enumerated factors in the definition were nonexclusive.
The court noted the seriousness of the problem the City Council had tried to address. Namely, that “unlicensed ultrasound technicians operating in pseudo-medical settings can spawn significant harms to pregnant, at-risk women who believe they are receiving medical care.” But at the end of the day, the court set aside the law, handing a victory to the centers and a loss to the vulnerable.
Disclosure: The author of this post interns for the New York City Law Department, the organization defending the crisis pregnancy center law.