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Austin ordinance forces pregnancy resource centers to highlight abortion

ADF, allied groups challenge law that requires pro-life centers to post signs designed to deter women

Thursday, Oct 6, 2011

ADF attorney sound bite:  Matt Bowman

AUSTIN, Texas — Attorneys with the Alliance Defense Fund and two pro-life organizations filed a lawsuit Thursday on behalf of Austin LifeCare, a pregnancy resource center, against the city of Austin. 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.

After a federal judge struck down a similar Baltimore ordinance in January, ADF attorneys secured an initial injunction against an ordinance in Montgomery County, Md., and recently won an injunction that suspends an ordinance in New York City.

“Pregnancy centers, which offer real help and hope to women, shouldn’t be punished by political allies of the abortion industry,” said ADF Legal Counsel Matt Bowman. “Attacks such as this ordinance are an ideologically motivated attempt to distract from the growing national scandals in the abortion industry. For years, abortionists have preyed on women and girls to generate profits. Now, pro-abortion politicians are trying to give women fewer choices.”

In April 2010, the 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:  ‘This 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.’”

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.

“Because our client’s 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,” explained lead counsel Samuel B. Casey, managing director of the Jubilee Campaign’s Law of Life Project and one of nearly 2,100 attorneys in the ADF alliance.

Texas Center for the Defense of Life attorneys Greg Terra and Stephen Casey, also ADF-allied attorneys, are serving as co-counsel in the lawsuit, Austin LifeCare v. City of Austin, filed with the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas-Austin Division.

ADF is a legal alliance of Christian attorneys and like-minded organizations defending the right of people to freely live out their faith. Launched in 1994, ADF employs a unique combination of strategy, training, funding, and litigation to protect and preserve religious liberty, the sanctity of life, marriage, and the family.