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NYC Firm on Stamping Out Pregnancy ‘Clinic’ Trickery

MANHATTAN (CN) - A Christian-run pregnancy office worried about having to disclose its anti-abortion, anti-emergency-contraception stance to patients has settled its suit against New York City.

As signed by then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg in 2011, the ordinance would have forced pregnancy services centers to tell a client to see a doctor, inform the client if it has a licensed doctor on staff, and to disclose whether that center provides abortion referrals.

Pregnancy Care Center of New York, Boro Pregnancy Counseling Center and Good Counsel countered with a lawsuit to have Local Law 17 declared unconstitutional.

Though U.S. District Judge William Pauley blocked the law before it could take effect in 2011, a divided three-judge panel the Second Circuit reversed in 2014.

The appeals court reinstated a provision of the law that forces centers to inform visitors whether they have any licensed medical staff on site.

This was a critical goal for lawmakers who estimated that more than 30 facilities in the city created the deceptive appearance of a clinical setting.

Clerks at these centers collect personal and insurance information in the waiting room; consultations take place on examination tables with stirrups; and scrub-suited consultants give free pregnancy tests and ultrasounds, city lawyer Robin Binder told Judge Pauley at one hearing.

The Second Circuit did, however, shut down a provision of the law that would force centers to disclose that they do not provide abortion services, emergency contraception, or prenatal care or referrals.

Nor could the city justify a notice stating that "the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene encourages women who are or who may be pregnant to consult with a licensed provider," the court found.

Settlement negotiations ensued after the Supreme Court refused to get involved.

A nine-page agreement signed Tuesday by Pauley confirms that the "government message" and "services disclosure" aspects of the law remain "permanently enjoined."

The city can, however, enforce the so-called "status disclosure" provision, and Pauley emphasized that the plaintiff offices here cannot bring any more lawsuits over the law as it now stands.

Good Counsel's two NYC locations meanwhile will face surprise inspections of their facilities where the city will ensure that the sites do not have the "appearance of a licensed medical facility."

These inspections will occur by April 27, and Good Counsel faces strict limits as to how it can challenge its inspection results or notice of violation, according to the settlement.

Good Counsel cannot, for example, demand a re-inspection nor can it seek reconsideration of the inspectors' written legal interpretation as to their findings.

While Good Counsel can bring a constitutional challenge as to how the city applied its law, it cannot challenge the administrative action via Article 78.

Good Counsel's viewpoints on abortion or emergency contraception are not factors the city can consider in its inspections, according to the settlement.

New York City was represented in the matter by Nicholas Ciappetta, who noted that the this week's settlement "paves the way for enforcement of the law."

"This is an important victory for women that will help ensure that they are not deceived about the availability of time sensitive reproductive services and can make informed decisions about their health," Ciappetta said in a statement.

Matthew Bowman with Alliance Defending Freedom in Washington, D.C., represented the pregnancy centers.

News of the settlement Wednesday came as Donald Trump, the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination, gave an MSNBC interview in which he said women who have abortions should face "some form of punishment."

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