Pregnancy Centers in Peril?

New York City Council okays disclosure requirements for pro-life services.

(photo: Shutterstock)

NEW YORK (CNS) — New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan and Brooklyn Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio said a requirement that crisis-pregnancy centers must display disclaimers about the services they provide “is designed to prevent pro-life advocates from speaking freely.”

Pro-life speech is “considered unwelcome by some powerful interest groups that favor abortion,” they said in a March 1 statement.

Their statement was released as the Pregnancy Service Center Bill, first proposed last fall, was pending before the New York City Council. A day later, the council passed it, and Mayor Michael Bloomberg was expected to sign it.

Under the ordinance, crisis-pregnancy centers are required to post notices on their doors and waiting-room walls and in advertisements that they do not perform abortions or provide referrals, distribute FDA-approved contraceptives or provide referrals. They also must post a notice when a physician is not in house.

Penalties for failure to comply include being shut down for five days after three violations. Centers can receive stiff fines and personnel can be jailed for up to six months if they fail to comply with the shut-down order.

A similar law in Baltimore was recently struck down as unconstitutional by a federal judge because it violated the First Amendment rights of pregnancy centers.

Archbishop Dolan and Bishop DiMarzio noted that the “some of the more draconian measures” in the bill had been removed after they earlier had raised concern about the measure, but they still urged the City Council to reject it.

“It is disappointing to see legislation that places restrictions on centers, which provide alternatives to abortion, especially at a time when the abortion rate is so high in the city,” they said.

Statistics released in January showed that 41% of pregnancies in the city end in abortion, almost double the national rate.

“Ultimately, this legislation will deprive some women of valuable services and information before they make their decision as to whether or not to have an abortion,” the two prelates said. “In our view, this legislation violates the First Amendment rights of our fellow New Yorkers and will have a profound consequence for women in need.”

In a column in The Tablet, Brooklyn’s diocesan newspaper, editor Ed Wilkinson said: “With 250 people licensed to perform abortions in 100 places in New York City and only 23 pregnancy-resource centers that offer information about an alternative, you would think that the anti-life forces would have a distinct advantage. They do. But it’s not enough.”

Writing before the City Council vote, Wilkinson warned the requirements “could put life centers out of business.

“Life centers primarily provide free counseling, clothing and material support and, in many cases, free ultrasound and prenatal care, which no abortion facility in New York City provides,” he said. “They do not pretend to do anything else. They do not masquerade as health centers or clinics. Life centers are clear on what they are about.”

He said the council had it backward: “It’s abortion clinics that need to be investigated and regulated, not pro-life centers.”