Austin
12:50 pm
Tue January 24, 2012

End or Amend? Either Way, City to Change 'Pregnancy Center' Disclaimers

Two proposals pertaining to Austin City Council action requiring disclaimers at “pregnancy centers” appear to be on a collision course.

Pregnancy centers have emerged as a controversial concept in recent years. Medically-styled businesses that offer resources to pregnant women, the centers do not offer abortions, or refer clients to abortion clinics.

Critics have charged that such centers push an anti-abortion agenda on young and confused clients, and that the resources some clinics deliver are decidedly minimal – basic information, and referrals to other state or city resources.

In Texas, their emergence has become even more pronounced as the state recently released a dramatically reduced list of state-financed women’s health clinics.

In 2010, council member Bill Spelman offered a resolution requiring signs to be displayed at the centers. In both English and Spanish, the signs 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.” The resolution passed unanimously.

However, two resolutions are before the council Thursday, one of which would repeal the law entirely. That would be Item 17, proposed by the city’s Law Department, which notes:

At the time the City Council passed the ordinance in 2010, there were no court decisions ruling on the constitutionality of similar ordinances. Subsequent to its passage, federal courts in other parts of the country have ruled that certain language in this type of ordinance is unconstitutional. Those court decisions have been appealed, and it is likely the U.S. Supreme Court will be asked to address the constitutionality of this type of ordinance. The City of Austin has also been sued following issuance of the court rulings, and the Law Department recommends repeal of the ordinance to avoid further litigation costs.

A separate resolution from Spelman and council member Mike Martinez looks to change, not appeal, the statute.

Item 45 calls for different language to be posted by center operators. They must post a bilingual signs “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 the two resolutions – one repealing city code, the other modifying it – are plainly in conflict, only one can pass.

The Austin City Council meets at 301 W. Second St., at 10 a.m. this Thursday.