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NYCLU Supports NYC Law that Balances First Amendment and Women’s Right to Health Care

The New York Civil Liberties Union has filed an amicus brief in federal court in support of a New York City law that requires pregnancy service centers to disclose whether they have a licensed medical provider on staff and whether they do or do not provide prenatal care, emergency contraception, or abortion services or referrals.

“The issue here is deception,” said Donna Lieberman, executive director of the NYCLU. “Anti-choice advocates have an absolute right to espouse their beliefs.  But they do not have the right to dress up in scrubs and masquerade as health care providers – or to deceive women into thinking they’ve had actual medical care when they have not.”

The NYCLU’s amicus brief was filed Thursday in response to two lawsuits challenging the new law by organizations that provide pregnancy services to women in New York City. The plaintiffs seek an injunction to prevent the law from taking effect as scheduled on July 14, 2011.

Pregnancy service centers (PSCs) often operate in settings that deliberately resemble medical offices, tactics that mislead women into confusing PSCs with licensed medical facilities, which they are not. Such deceptions can discourage women from seeking necessary and time-sensitive medical care, which puts their health at risk.

The law, enacted on March 16, does not seek to limit or direct the activities of PSCs, but mandates that PSCs clearly disclose the services provided and whether staff members are supervised by licensed professionals. The law does not restrict what PSCs can say about abortion or contraception.

“The free-speech rights of PSCs and their staff are crucial to a robust public debate about a range of topics, including abortion,” said Melissa Goodman, senior counsel for reproductive rights. “The city’s law strikes an appropriate balance that preserves the centers’ First Amendment rights and ensures that women do not leave a non-medical PSC mistakenly believing they have received actual medical care.”

The NYCLU’s brief maintains that the law is carefully crafted to appropriately balance PSCs’ First Amendment rights with women’s right to access necessary and time-sensitive health care. It argues that the law does not burden the free speech rights of the centers or their employees; force them to adopt ideological views with which they disagree; or target them for their viewpoint.

NYCLU Legal Director Arthur Eisenberg, Staff Attorney Alexis Karteron and Staff Attorney Katharine Bodde joined Goodman on the brief.

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