Federal Judge Rules in Favor of Austin Pro-Life Pregnancy Centers

Bethany Monk | June 24, 2014

A federal judge on Monday struck down an ordinance that required pregnancy centers in Austin, Texas to post signage with pre-written information. In his ruling, U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel said the ordinance was “void for vagueness,” and that the city may not enforce it.

Jonathan Saenz, an attorney with the Liberty Institute, said the city tried to bully nonprofit pregnancy centers “with complete disregard toward religious liberty and free speech.”

“The City of Austin was warned by legal experts and they forced it through the process anyway,” he said. “This victory is a strong statement that pro-life centers were right all along and that legal judgment of the city cannot be trusted.”

The city passed the ordinance in 2010 to restrict the operation of what it calls “Limited Service Pregnancy Centers,” according to Texas Values. These centers help pregnant women carry their babies to term. They do not offer abortions nor do they provide referrals to abortionists or places with so-called comprehensive birth control services.

The ordinance required these pro-life centers to “prominently display” two signs — one in English and one in Spanish — at their entrances. The signs had to state:

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.

Pregnancy centers that did not post these signs were subject to hefty fines.

Abortion sellers, however, were not required to post any disclaimers indicating services they do not offer. 

Austin LifeCare, Inc., one of the city’s pregnancy centers, filed a complaint in 2011.

Council members then revised the ordinance to say all non-medical pregnancy centers had to post signs saying they don’t provide medical services and are not licensed to perform ultrasounds. Such licenses, though, do not even exist.

Matt Bowman, senior legal counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), said the ordinance gave the city “dangerous latitude” against such places that “offer real help to women.”

“Political allies of abortionists shouldn’t be allowed to use the law as a tool to attack pregnancy care centers,” he explained. 

Jeff Mateer, an attorney for Liberty Institute he’s pleased with Yeakel’s decision.

“The great work of these pregnancy resource centers to help women make informed decisions,” he said, “will no longer be hindered.”