Members of the City Council affirmed their support this morning for a bill that would counter what they said are misleading tactics employed by pro-life “crisis pregancy centers.”
“At its core it is actually a consumer protection piece of legislation,” Speaker Christine Quinn said. “The goal of this bill is to ensure that women are fully informed and not deceived when they are walking into offices that present themselves as medical offices when they are not.”
The bill’s supporters said that so-called crisis pregnancy centers misrepresent themselves as medical facilities in order to discourage women from seeking other types of medical care, such as by putting scrubs on people who are not licensed doctors. Under the new legislation, centers must disclose if they have a licensed medical provider on site and whether they provide or refer for prenatal care, emergency contraception or abortions. They must also inform women that the Department of Health urges them to consult with a licensed medical provider.
Quinn denied that the legislation is specifically targeting pregnancy centers in order to disrupt the services they provide. Rather, she said that the bill seeks to prevent women from being “manipulated by a political agenda at a time when they are most vulnerable.”
Joan Malin, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood New York City, said that pregnancy centers have been aggressively trying to steer pregnant women away from her organization.
“They target our health centers and patients, setting up across the street from our Bronx center and in the same building as our Brooklyn center,” Malin said. “They prey upon our patients using deceptive signage and advertising.”
Critics of the bill say it restricts their First Amendment rights, pointing to a Baltimore bill that required pregnancy centers to post signs in their waiting rooms and was later struck down in court. Council Member Jessica Lappin rebutted this argument by emphasizing that the bill’s purpose was to ensure that women have access to accurate information.
“This measure does not curtail First Amendment rights — that is not what this is about,” she said. “People have a right to believe and say what they think, but not while they’re wearing scrubs in an office that looks like a medical facility.”
After the conference, Christopher Slattery, the president of EMC Frontline Pregnancy Centers, said that his organization was preparing to file a lawsuit seeking a temporary restraining order on the bill’s “onerous and off-putting” disclosure requirements.
“It’s a question of whether it violates my civil rights, and it does,” Slattery said, adding that “its premise is built on deceptive lies.”