Diocese of Austin files suit against pregnancy center ordinance

The Catholic Diocese of Austin and three pregnancy resource centers have filed a lawsuit against the City of Austin charging that its ordinance unconstitutionally requires the centers to post signs stating that they do not provide abortions and birth control.

“The Roman Catholic Diocese of Austin, Catholic Charities of Central Texas and the Gabriel Project of Austin provide women in crisis pregnancy with life affirming options,” said Bishop Joseph Vasquez of Austin. “The ordinance enacted by the City of Austin impedes our ability to perform this ministry effectively and it is unjust. We turn now to the courts to protect our constitutional rights.”

The Plano, Texas-based Liberty Institute filed the lawsuit on behalf of the diocese, Catholic Charities of Central Texas, the Austin Pregnancy Resource Center and the South Austin Pregnancy Resource Center.

“The decision by the Austin City Council to compel false and misleading speech is a clear violation of the pregnancy centers’ constitutional rights and is a despicable ploy to deter women and families from using these charitable centers,” said Jonathan Saenz, director of legislative affairs at the institute.

Saenz charged that the city government is forcing a “national pro-abortion agenda” on its citizens at the expense of women and unborn children who “greatly benefit” from the clinics’ free pregnancy-related centers.

A government ordinance, the first of its kind in Texas, requires pregnancy centers to post the signs. Two of the centers involved in the lawsuits refer married clients to primary physicians for birth control, while the third provides information about natural family planning and abstinence.

The Liberty Institute noted that natural family planning and abstinence are recognized forms of birth control.

The organization noted that there is no requirement forcing abortion facilities to post signs or provide disclaimers stating what services they do not provide.

The Liberty Institute said that the ordinance is the result of “deliberate and targeted discrimination” by the city and by the pro-abortion rights group NARAL Pro-Choice America.

Former Texas Supreme Court justice Raul A. Gonzalez said the attempt is “nothing more than an attempt to limit the options offered to women in pregnancy situations.”

“Rather than allow women to actually have a choice and consider all of their options, NARAL and the City of Austin have chosen to bully these non-profit pregnancy resource centers who provide valuable services to women. Less competition means more money, and the abortion industry is all about the money,” Gonzalez said.

The Liberty Institute said that NARAL Pro-Choice America pushed the ordinance as part of a national strategy designed to restrict pregnancy centers’ outreach to women in need.

In a May 10, 2011 YouTube video, Angela Hooton, interim director of the National Institute for Reproductive Health, discussed the movement to create regulations for pregnancy centers.

She said the goal is to address crisis pregnancy centers “one urban area at a time.”

The video “Exposing Crisis Pregnancy Centers One City at a Time” reports that in 2008 abortion advocates launched the Urban Initiative to advance such laws. Its network has reportedly grown to over 300 participants including elected officials, public health leaders and advocates working in over 30 cities.

NARAL’s New York branch says the legislation is needed to ensure that women do not receive false information about abortion and to ensure their privacy is protected.

Ordinances similar to Austin’s passed in Baltimore, in Maryland’s Montgomery County and in New York City, but were halted by federal judges for First Amendment violations.

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