Fortunately for New York City’s pregnancy care centers, a politically motivated ordinance slated to take effect in mid-July was declared “unconstitutionally vague” by a federal district judge. The ruling is a victory for volunteer organizations and freedom of speech.

The court order will keep the city from fining pregnancy centers that were singled out by the ordinance and required, oddly enough, to highlight the services they do not offer, particularly abortion and emergency contraception. The ordinance also required the centers to emphasize to potential clients whether they have licensed medical providers on staff. Federal district judge William Pauley faulted the law for its overly broad language and its premise that the nonprofit pregnancy centers engage in commercial speech subject to strict regulation.

Skepticism about the ordinance’s constitutionality was present from the start. On the day New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg signed the bill last March, he told opponents, “You can challenge it in court. If it’s constitutional or not, I just don’t know.”

City Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn was disappointed by the ruling. “Today’s decision means that pregnancy service centers can continue deceiving women who seek their services,” she said.

Chris Slattery, president of Expectant Mother Care Frontline Pregnancy Centers, said his group was vindicated by the decision. City lawmakers “just threw out the First Amendment on the altar of the abortion industry,” he said.

Earlier this year a federal judge found part of a similar law in Montgomery County, Maryland, unconstitutional. The law required pregnancy centers to post a sign in the waiting room notifying women that there is no medical professional on staff and encouraging them to see a licensed health care provider.

With the help of organizations like the Alliance Defense Fund and American Center for Law and Justice, Slattery’s group fought the bill alongside other nonprofits like Boro Pregnancy Counseling Center and AAA Pregnancy Problems Center. These groups operate more than a dozen pregnancy care centers in New York City. Without government aid, these centers provide women with free pregnancy tests and ultrasounds, material assistance, educational resources, and alternatives to abortion. Most offer post-abortion counseling as well.

The Heritage Foundation’s Chuck Donovan has highlighted a 2009 Family Research Council report about the importance of pregnancy support agencies that operate largely without public funding. They:

  • Assist an average of 5,500 Americans daily—nearly 2 million yearly—with sexuality- and pregnancy-related concerns;
  • Raise an estimated $200 million in donations each year, with more than 90 percent of the total from private, non-governmental sources;
  • Provide 24/7 accessibility to centers via Option Line, a national telephone hotline (1-800-395-HELP) and Web site that averages 20,000 contacts per month;
  • Provide limited ultrasound services at nearly 700 centers across the United States, using trained nurses and physicians;
  • Enjoy the services of more than 40,000 volunteers in appropriate capacities, including fundraising; and
  • Maintain an international network of more than 60 centers in Canada and another 40-plus countries worldwide from Romania to Vietnam to Zambia.

Given such accomplishments, ordinances like those in Maryland and New York are not health measures but political statements meant to hit non-medical pregnancy centers that refuse to follow the agenda of “reproductive rights” groups. The surest evidence is the fact that the ordinances are not based in the complaints of actual clients of the centers, who routinely testify to the help they received from these nonprofits.

Thousands of pregnancy centers across the nation, medical and non-medical, are important civic resources for women making tough decisions about their pregnancies. The centers are crucial to any reasonable strategy to make abortion rare, especially in places like New York City, where 41 percent of pregnancies end in induced abortion.

Mary Fracnes Boyle currently is a member of the Young Leaders Program at the Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please visit: