I have blogged a number of times about Intro 371, the New York City bill that targeted pregnancy centers for unfair and discriminatory regulations, with an aim towards silencing them and putting them out of business.
Pro-lifers from our city, and leaders of national pro-life groups all lobbied very hard to prevent the passage of that bill. At a public hearing, and in repeated communications with the Council, we warned them that the bill was unconstitutional. But they didn’t care. Even when two courts in Maryland struck down similar bills as being unconstitutional, they were undeterred. Spurred on by the abortion industry and the anti-life ideologues of NARAL, Planned Parenthood, and the New York Civil Liberties Union, the Council heedlessly went forward with the bill, and the mayor imprudently signed it into law.
A lawsuit was filed by several pregnancy centers, challenging the law. And today, just days before the law was to go into effect, the court issued its ruling — a preliminary injunction, barring the implementation of the law.
The case isn’t over — it still has to be fully litigated. But in the meantime, this iniquitous law will not go into effect. This is a great victory for the pro-life cause, and for free speech.
The court accepted all the same constitutional arguments that the pro-lifers presented at the public hearing last fall. It found that the law was an infringement upon the free speech rights of the centers and their staffs, and that it was also so vague that it created a grave risk of being arbitrarily enforced.
Most importantly, the court utterly rejected the City’s arguments that the speech of the pregnancy centers could be regulated as if it was “commercial speech”, a category of speech that can be subjected to fairly broad regulation by the government. Instead, the court held that the speech of the centers was to be given the highest degree of protection under the Constitution, and that laws infringing upon their speech could only be valid if they pass muster under the extremely stringent “strict scrutiny” standard — which few laws can survive.
In fact, the court rebuked the City for its position, saying:
Defendant’s second argument — that Plaintiffs engage in commercial speech because they are provided an audience to whom they can espouse their beliefs — is particularly offense to free speech principles… that proposition would permit the Government to inject its own message into virtually all speech designed to advocate a message to more than a single individual and thereby eviscerate the First Amendment’s protections.
Even better, the court called out the New York Civil Liberties Union for their failure to defend the free speech rights of the centers. The court said,
Given the New York Civil Liberties Union’s (“NYCLU’s) usual concern for First Amendment rights, its amicus brief supporting Defendants’ expansive view of the commercial speech doctrine is puzzling.
True, one might expect the NYCLU to be unyielding in the defense of anyone’s First Amendment rights. But they are in the grips of such an uncompromising pro-abortion ideology that they cannot conceive that the speech of pro-lifers deserves protection. This is not the first time that their hypocrisy has been put on display, but it may be one of the first times a court took the trouble to note it.
Pro-lifers espouse a counter-cultural message that is sternly disapproved by the elites who deign to govern and advise us (e.g, the editorial board of the New York Times). Legislatures and courts across the nation have expressed this disapproval by restricting the rights of pro-lifers to speak to women outside of abortion clinics, to give prayerful witness outside those clinics, and to offer alternatives to abortion. It is a constant battle to defend our rights against these forces.
For once at least — and in New York City of all places! — a court got it right, and has recognized that pro-lifers have the same constitutional rights as any other citizen.
Congratulations to those who fought this bill before the Council, to the fine attorneys at the Alliance Defense Fund and the American Center for Law and Justice who pursued the lawsuit so ably, and to the pregnancy centers that kept up the fight.
I have a friend who likes to recall the story of Gideon from the Book of Judges. Hopelessly outnumbered by a mighty foe, he trusted the Lord and was victorious. Yes, indeed, all praise and glory to Him who never fails to comes to the aid of his people in need.