FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE — 6:00 P.M. EST, November 10, 2011 — Signs of hope in Austin: In exchange for Suspension of A Pending Civil Rights Action Against it, the City of Austin Offers to Suspend Enforcement While It Considers Repealing its Challenged Pregnancy Resource Center Ordinance.
Austin LifeCare takes down its City-Imposed disclaimer sign after it is told by the City’s lawyers that the City is suspending enforcement of its Ordinance.
Austin, Texas (Friday, October 11, 2011). Austin LifeCare, through its attorneys from the Texas Center for the Defense of Life (TCDL), the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF), and the Jubilee Campaign’s Law of Life Project (JC-LOLP) expressed thanks Thursday to the City of Austin for temporarily agreeing in Court today, through their legal counsel, that Austin LifeCare may take down the sign the City required them to post while the City takes a closer look at the constitutionality of the City’s law that singles out Austin’s pregnancy resource centers.
The agreement puts on hold, until February 2012, a lawsuit filed on October 6 on behalf of Austin LifeCare, a pregnancy resource center, against the City of Austin. The lawsuit challenges on First Amendment grounds an ordinance that requires pro-life pregnancy centers to post signs declaring that they do not provide abortions and other services.
“We are thankful to the City that it will take a closer look at its ordinance, and that in the meantime Austin LifeCare can continue to offer real help and hope to women without posting the City’s message,” said TCDL President, Greg Terra. Federal District Court Judge Lee Yeakel with the parties’ agreement ordered the case to be stayed at least until February 3, 2012, when the parties will provide a status update to the court.
Another federal judge struck down a similar Baltimore ordinance in January, after which ADF attorneys secured an initial injunction against an ordinance in Montgomery County, Md., and recently won an injunction that suspends an ordinance in New York City. On October 12, 2011, attorneys for Austin LifeCare filed a motion for preliminary injunction in this case for argument later this month, which is now being put on hold by the Court while Austin LifeCare is freed to cease its compliance with the Ordinance.
JC-LOLP’s General Counsel, Sam Casey, Austin LifeCare’s lead trial counsel in the case, said: “We applaud the City of Austin for finally answering in Court today our letters sent to its City Attorney in April and August asking the City to suspend its enforcement against our client and consider repealing this facially unconstitutional Ordinance, particularly when there is no evidence that any pregnancy resource center in Austin is doing anything but freely providing a multitude of pregnancy services to women and men who are faced with an unintended pregnancy.”
In April 2010, the Austin City Council passed an ordinance to restrict the operations of what it calls “Limited Service Pregnancy Centers,” facilities that help pregnant women carry their babies to term without offering abortions, referrals to abortionists, or so-called “comprehensive birth control services.”
Under the ordinance, centers such as Austin LifeCare are required to “prominently display, at the entrance of the center, two black and white signs, one in English and one in Spanish, 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 Administration approved birth control drugs and medical devices.’”
The first offense is punishable by a minimum $250 fine; a minimum fine of $350 is issued for the second offense and a minimum $450 fine for the third. The fines only apply to individuals or organizations that primarily provide counseling information about pregnancy services or options. The ordinance does not require centers performing or referring for abortions to post any kind of signs about services that they do not offer.