Pregnancy care centers in Austin, Texas, do not have to post signs telling clients they do not provide abortions or offer referrals for them, a federal court ruled on Monday. In Austin LifeCare v. City of Austin, the federal district court found the signage requirements too vague.
The City of Austin passed an ordinance in 2010 requiring owners of unlicensed pregnancy service centers to display a sign “conspicuously visible to a person entering the center” telling clients the center did not provide or refer abortions. In some cases, that information was already posted inside the building. The sign also had to inform clients a “full-time” medical healthcare provider was not on site.
Centers that partnered with licensed doctors to provide ultrasounds were required to post a sign saying the facility was not licensed to offer the scans, even though no license to perform ultrasounds exists, according to Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), which helped litigate the case. The city revised the ordinance when faced with a lawsuit, but the wording remained problematic.
The ordinance was the “result of a private political organization using the power of government to attack an organization based on that organization’s ideas and speech,” Samuel B. Casey, an attorney with the Jubilee Campaign’s Law for Life Project, told WORLD in November 2011.
Failure to post the sign was a misdemeanor, punishable with a $250 fine for the first offense, and $350 and $450 for the second and third offenses.
Plaintiffs Austin LifeCare Inc., the Roman Catholic Diocese of Austin, Catholic Charities of Central Austin, Austin Pregnancy Resources Center, and South Austin Pregnancy Resource Center filed suit in October 2011.
“Political allies of abortionists shouldn’t be allowed to use the law as a tool to attack pregnancy care centers, which offer real help and hope to women,” Matt Bowman, ADF chief legal counsel, said. “Courts around the country have been striking these types of laws down, and this decision joins the growing list.”