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Does Anti-Abortion Disclosure Law Violate Free Speech Rights?

By Robyn Hagan Cain on January 31, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Pro-Life advocates and New York City verbally sparred before the Second Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday over New York City Local Law 17. District Judge William Pauley struck the law as unconstitutionally vague last year.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg signed the law to address concerns that some pregnancy services centers in the city engaged in deceptive practices, misleading consumers about the services or goods that provided and referrals to third-party providers.

Local Law 17 required crisis-pregnancy centers to disclose whether or not they performed abortions or gave referrals for them, if they had a medical professional on the premises, and if emergency contraception and prenatal services were offered, reports The New York Post.

Under the law, a "pregnancy services center" included any facility that primarily provided services to pregnant women, including ultrasounds, obstetric ultrasounds, or prenatal care, and had the appearance of a licensed medical facility. (The "appearance" standard covered facilities where staff or volunteers wore medical attire, and where medical supplies and examination tables were present.)

Pro-Life advocates, including the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) and the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), challenged the law on behalf of affected pregnancy services centers, claiming that Local Law 17 violated their free speech rights because it would compel them to speak certain messages, or face fines or closure. Judge Pauley sided with the ADF and ACLJ, finding that the law could not survive strict scrutiny review because it was not narrowly tailored to serve a compelling government interest.

The city appealed Judge Pauley's preliminary injunction, prompting this week's Second Circuit Court of Appeals arguments.

It will be interesting to see how the Second Circuit rules on Local Law 17 in light of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals' recent decision that a Texas sonogram law, which requires service providers to provide certain disclosures and perform a sonogram on a pregnant woman who requests an abortion, did not violate Texas doctors' free speech rights.

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