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Federal Judge Halts Pregnancy Center Legislation

By Jill Colvin | July 13, 2011 8:42pm

MANHATTAN — A federal court judge has halted the enforcement of controversial legislation targeting emergency pregnancy centers, which had been set to go into effect Thursday.

U.S. District Judge William Pauley ruled against the city in a 22-page decision filed Wednesday, finding the legislation compromised the centers' Constitutional rights.

The centers, including EMC FrontLine Pregnancy Centers, provide women with free pregnancy tests, counseling and other services, but are openly anti-abortion. They sometimes use what some consider aggressive tactics to push women to consider other options.

Under the legislation, passed by the Council in March, the centers would have been forced to explicitly advertise that they do not perform abortions and disclose whether they have a licensed medical provider on site, provide referrals for prenatal care and abortions and provide emergency contraception.

The bill, which was co-sponsored by Upper East Side City Councilwoman Jessica Lappin and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, would also have required the centers to keep patients' information confidential.

But Judge Pauley said the legislation was flawed and that the wording it used to define the centers was "unconstitutionally vague."

He also said the signage rules would have resulted in the "drowning [of the centers'] intended message in the city's preferred admonitions."

EMC FrontLine Pregnancy Centers founder and president Christopher Slattery, who runs a dozen of the centers across the city, said he was “extremely pleased” with the ruling.

“We think it's a great upholding of the First Amendment and the U.S. Constitution,” said Slattery, who had threatened to sue as soon as the legislation was introduced.

“It was an absolute slam-dunk victory," he said.

But Quinn, who had celebrated the passage of the legislation, slammed the ruling as “unacceptable.”

“The court’s decision is deeply disappointing and is a disservice to women,” said Quinn said in a statement, adding that the city plans to immediately appeal the ruling.

"Today's decision means that pregnancy service centers can continue deceiving women who seek their services. Equally troubling is that the centers will not be required to keep confidential the information collected from women who visit them.

“In issuing this injunction, the court has failed to protect pregnant women in an extremely vulnerable time in their lives,” she said.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg had said he was not sure whether the regulations were constitutional when he signed them into law.