NYCLU: New NYC Law Will Balance First Amendment and Women’s Rights to Reproductive Health Care

Affiliate: ACLU of New York
March 2, 2011 10:49 am

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March 2, 2010 – The New York Civil Liberties Union today applauded the City Council’s expected passage of legislation that will require New York City 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.

“When pregnancy service centers deceive women about their services, they put women in danger by delaying their ability to access real medical care,” said NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman. “This legislation strikes an appropriate balance between protecting the centers’ right to free speech and women’s right to complete and accurate information when they make critical decisions about their health.”

NYCLU testimony before the City Council, along with reports from across the country, document a pattern of practices by some pregnancy service centers that lead women to confuse them with licensed medical facilities, which they are not. Testimony and reports showed that some centers consistently employ tactics designed to delay or mislead women about the care they receive. At some centers, pregnant women have undergone sonograms conducted by scrub-suited employees, in areas designed to resemble medical offices – but without licensed medical professionals providing or supervising their care.

Unlike medical providers, who are subject to State Department of Health oversight, non-medical pregnancy service centers are not regulated by the government.

The legislation, cosponsored by Council Speaker Christine Quinn and Councilmember Jessica Lappin and expected to pass the City Council today, ensures that pregnancy service centers in the city are forthright with women who come to them and clearly inform women that 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; to disclose whether they have a licensed medical provider on staff; and to disclose whether they do or do not provide pre-natal care, emergency contraception, or abortions services or referrals. The law requires pregnancy service centers to make these disclosures by posting physical signs, in Spanish and English.

In testimony before the City Council in November 2010, the NYCLU had suggested revisions to the bill to appropriately balance women’s right to access reproductive health care free of coercion, deception and delay with the centers’ right to free speech. The legislation reflects those suggestions.

“The free speech rights of pregnancy service centers and their staff are critical to the robust public debate about a range of topics, including abortion,” said Melissa Goodman, senior counsel for reproductive rights. “This legislation is carefully crafted to both preserve the centers’ First Amendment rights and to ensure that women do not leave a non-medical pregnancy service center mistakenly believing they have received medical care from licensed medical professionals.”

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