The lawsuit challenges an ordinance that forces pro-life pregnancy centers to post signs declaring that they do not provide abortions and other services. Centers that do not post the signs face stiff financial penalties. Similar ordinances, based upon the same unsubstantiated propaganda spread by the National Abortion Rights Action League all over the country, have been struck down by federal district courts in Baltimore, Montgomery County and New York City.
Austin LifeCareʼs Executive Director, Pam Cobern, said:
“Austin LifeCare has been serving women in Central Texas with excellence and without charge for more than 27 years. Our communications are clear, honest and appropriate. We provide all clients with full disclosure of the types of ʻlife-affirmingʼ services we provide starting with the ʻabout usʼ and ʻservicesʼ tabs on our web site. Every person who mentions abortion while calling Austin LifeCare for an appointment is told we neither perform nor refer for abortion. Before she can meet with a counselor or nurse, the woman signs a statement that states ʻthe Center does not perform or refer for abortionsʼ. In addition, there are framed ʻCommitment of Careʼ statements reiterating this fact displayed prominently in the waiting area. Our clients receive medically accurate and unbiased information to help them make their own decision, not one imposed by someone elseʼs agenda. Austin LifeCare trusts women, tells them the truth, and treats them with dignity and respect while respecting their right to choose in the most fully informed fashion they request.”
Lead and General Counsel of the Jubilee Campaignʼs LAW OF LIFE PROJECT, Samuel Casey, said:
“Having hand-delivered two demand letters to the City on April 22 and September 16 asking it to stand down from enforcing its unconstitutional ordinance and being completely stone-walled, in the face of our multiple requests for some reply, we have no choice now but to seek judicial relief. Because our clientʼs rights protected by the First Amendment should not continue to be violated, we are also asking the court to stop the ordinance from being enforced while the case continues.”
On April 8, 2010, after no more than a 30 minute hearing wherein its rules were waived and discussion was limited by the presiding officer to “15 minutes per side,” and no evidence of any unlawfully deceptive or misleading conduct by LifeCare was presented, Austin City Council passed an ordinance to restrict the operations of what it calls “Limited Service Pregnancy Centers,” facilities that help pregnant women carry their babies to term without offering abortions, referrals to abortionists, or so- called “comprehensive birth control services.” Under the ordinance, centers such as Austin LifeCare are required to “prominently display, at the entrance of the center, two black and white signs, one in English and one in Spanish, that state as follows: ʻThis center does not provide abortions or refer to abortion providers. This center does not provide or refer to providers of U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved birth control drugs and medical devices.ʼ” The first offense is punishable by a minimum $250 fine; a minimum fine of $350 is issued for the second offense and a minimum $450 fine for the third. The fines only apply to individuals or organizations that primarily provide counseling information about pregnancy services or options. The ordinance does not require centers performing or referring for abortions to post any kind of signs about services that they do not offer.
“As we exhaustively explain in the Verified Complaint we have filed in the federal court, the challenged ordinance is the simply the result of a private political organization using the power of government to attack another organization based on that organizationʼs ideas and speech. The National Abortion Rights Action League (“NARAL”) has long attacked pregnancy resource centers in NARALʼs publications and bogus “investigations.” Not satisfied with the results of those efforts, NARAL worked closely with the City to develop the unconstitutional ordinance. It is an abuse of governmental power and the legislative process to draft legislation to target one organization for the benefit of a political ally. The abuse is particularly egregious when that attack is based on the target organizationʼs ideas and speech. The ordinance is deeply flawed. It is not just another law prohibiting “untrue and misleading” speech. If it were, it would be unnecessary because those laws already exist. It is instead a thinly-veiled unconstitutional restriction of speech by organizations, like Austin LifeCare, with whom the proponents of the ordinance disagree. The City had no real-world justification for its adoption – only speculation and hyperbole disproved by the true facts presented to them they chose to ignore.”