Something to celebrate: A free-speech, pro-life victory in New York City

Found it — the something hopeful I’ve been scouring news feeds for. A federal judge yesterday temporarily blocked New York City from enforcing a new law that would hinder the effectiveness of crisis pregnancy centers.

Judge William Pauley III called the new law “offensive to free-speech principles” and halted its enactment while a lawsuit filed on behalf of two pregnancy-care centers and a maternity home by the Alliance Defense Fund continues.

The law, titled Bill 371-A, was passed in March and backed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and City Council speaker Christine Quinn.

The measure obligated pregnancy centers to notify women whether the center offered abortions or had licensed medical providers on staff. It also required the centers to encourage women to consult with alternate medical providers. Failure to comply with the law could result in thousands of dollars in fines, shutdown of the centers or imprisonment.

In contrast, the law did not require abortion or family-planning businesses to make any disclosures about abortion alternatives.

Judge Pauley held that the First Amendment protects both the right to speak and the right to refrain from speech. Proponents of the law made the odd argument that crisis pregnancy centers engage in commercial speech — which is significantly less protected by the First Amendment — because they provide goods (e.g. advice, diapers, etc. which they provide freely!) in exchange for something of economic value (the chance to speak to an audience). Pauley called that argument “particularly offensive” because it made an assembly of people an economic commodity.

Recent statistics show 41 percent of pregnancies in New York City end in abortion. That means 41 percent of pregnancies in New York City could be classified as “unwanted” or “crisis” pregnancies — exactly the sort of pregnancies the pro-life centers targeted by the law aim to address. No laws require pregnant women to seek the comfort and solace of a crisis pregnancy center — but it seems safe to assume those who do don’t go to a care center to hear whether they have the option of abortion.

But if they do, then presumably women also go to abortion centers to hear whether they have the option of adoption. The total lack of reciprocity in the law’s requirements illustrates just how ideologically motivated it was/is. If information dissemination alone were the goal, the requirements would, of course, apply in a two-way direction. That Judge Pauley blocked the law should be an encouragement to anyone who wants women facing a crisis pregnancy to be able to find help, acceptance and hope somewhere other than an abortion center (especially given the sort of “help” abortion centers provide). It should also be an encouragement to anyone who would like to be able to work to help those women without having to speak in favor of a practice they oppose.

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