Federal Appeals Court Reinstates Portion of NYC Law Regulating Crisis Pregnancy Centers

The 2-1 ruling requires crisis pregnancy centers to disclose whether they have licensed medical providers at their facilities.

The 2-1 ruling requires crisis pregnancy centers disclose whether they have licensed medical providers at their facilities. Gavel via Shutterstock

Reproductive rights advocates scored an important victory Friday, when a federal appeals court reinstated key components of a New York City law regulating crisis pregnancy centers.

A three-judge panel from the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit reinstated the portion of the 2011 law that requires crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) to disclose whether or not a licensed medical provider works at the facility. In 2011, a federal court blocked the city from enforcing the law entirely, finding that it was unconstitutionally vague. But the appeals court disagreed, in part, with that ruling. According to the Second Circuit judges, New York could require CPCs to make disclosures about medical providers because the professionals are related to its ability to “protect the health of its citizens and combat consumer deception in even the most minimal way.” Furthermore, the court held, New York has a compelling interest in protecting consumers from deceptive practices of CPCs, many of which the court noted were often located near Planned Parenthood health-care clinics and had misleading names and signage.

“Such a law is required to ensure that women have prompt access to the type of care they seek,” the court wrote.

The ruling did not restore the law in its entirety, though. Among those portions of the law still blocked is the law’s requirement that centers disclose whether they provide referrals for emergency contraception, abortions, or prenatal care. Those aspects, the appeals court held, were likely unconstitutional.

New York City passed the law as part of a consumer protection approach to dealing with CPCs, arguing truth-in-advertising standards seek to protect consumers, many of whom did not understand that CPCs were not licensed medical facilities. Anti-choice activists challenged the law, arguing it violated their First Amendment free speech rights.

“A pregnant woman deserves and has the right to know whether the person posing as her medical provider is actually just an anti-choice activist wearing a white lab coat,” said NARAL Pro-Choice New York President Andrea Miller in a statement. “That’s why the … decision today … is a crucial step toward ending the dangers that these centers pose to pregnant women. We look forward to the City moving forward to implement this important protection.”

The ruling is consistent with other federal courts that have looked at the issue, including the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals last summer. The Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian public interest law firm representing the CPCs, and the maternity home challenging the law, said in statement that they are evaluating whether they will appeal the ruling.