Federal Litigation Against the City of Austin to Continue
AUSTIN, Texas — Attorneys with Texas Center for Defense of Life (TCDL.org), who are representing Austin Lifecare, will amend and continue the federal lawsuit they filed against the City of Austin
BACKGROUND: On April 19, 2010, the City of Austin passed an ordinance entitled ‘Chapter 10-9 – Limited Service Pregnancy Centers’ (copy attached). This ordinance required the “owner or operator” of a “Limited Service Pregnancy Center” to “prominently display, at the entrance to the Center, two black and white signs… that state as follows: ‘This center does not provide abortions or refer to abortion providers. This center does not provide or refer to providers of U.S. Food and Drug Admin. Approved birth control drugs and medical devices.” Violations of the ordinance could have resulted in criminal fines of up to $450 per incident.
On October 6, 2011, attorneys with Texas Center for Defense of Life (TCDL.org), Alliance Defense Fund, and Law of Life Project, filed a lawsuit in U.S. District (federal) court against the City of Austin on behalf of Austin LifeCare, one of several Austin-based pregnancy resource center affected by the ordinance (press release dated 10/6/11 attached).
On Nov. 13, 2011, litigation against this original ordinance was ‘stayed’ (postponed) by the Court until early February 2012, and the City of Austin agreed to not enforce the ordinance for the same period of time, allowing time for the City to consider whether to simply repeal, or repeal and then replace the original ordinance.
Today, the City of Austin decided to repeal ‘Chapter 10-9 – Limited Service Pregnancy Centers’ completely and replace it with ‘Chapter 10-10 – Limited Service Pregnancy Centers’ (copy attached). The newly adopted ordinance, requires an “owner or operator” of a pregnancy center to “prominently display, outside the entrance of the Center, two black and white signs, one in English and one in Spanish, that truthfully disclose the following information: (i) whether the center has a licensed health care provider or practitioner directly supervising all medical services; and (ii) whether the center is licensed or regulated by a state or federal regulatory entity to provide medical services.” As before, violators can be issued criminal citations and assessed fines of up to $450 per incident.
Greg Terra, TCDL President & CEO said:
“My Chief Counsel, Stephen Casey, and I appeared in person at the Austin City Council meeting in April of 2010 and warned council members that the original ordinance was unconstitutional and if passed would be challenged with a lawsuit, but the City of Austin disregarded our warnings and unanimously passed it anyway.
Then, before we actually filed our lawsuit, we hand-delivered two separate letters to the Austin City Attorney Karen Kennard, as ‘shots across the bow,’ warning her of the blatant unconstitutionality of the ordinance and asking her to notify us in writing that it would never be enforced. In October of last year, when Ms. Kennard declined to respond to either letter we finally filed our lawsuit in federal court in Austin.”
“Today, the City finally repealed the original ordinance, but not before our combined legal teams have accrued tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees, which we intend to pass along to the City of Austin and therefore to Austin taxpayers.”
“This new ordinance is equally unconstitutional for reasons detailed in a letter emailed by our co-counsel, Law of Life project, to attorneys representing Austin earlier this week (copy attached). We therefore intend to amend our current lawsuit and continue the fight in federal court, and we have no doubt that we will prevail in the end. Although we have advised the City against adoption of this new ordinance, we will be more than happy to collect additional legal fees from the City to help fund the important legal work we will be doing in other pro-life cases.”
Stephen Casey, TCDL Vice President and Chief Counsel added:
“Even with the wording changes, the ordinance would still unconstitutionally target a few centers for their religious views. Similar ordinances have been held unconstitutional, and we are confident that the U.S. Supreme Court will agree if and when this case gets there. We think it would be wise for Austin to repeal and stop the litigation while there is still an ongoing national question about the issue, but as Greg said we will be happy to collect more legal fees from the City.”
The Texas Center for Defense of Life (TCDL) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing legal representation and support to pro-life organizations and individuals in Texas, and to aggressively defending the sanctity of innocent human life in Texas and federal courts