In the latest chapter of a saga that dates back to 2011, Chris Slattery of EMC Pregnancy Centers found himself before a New York City administrative court judge Dec. 13, pushing back against a $2,000 fine levied by the City's consumer affairs department.
At stake is a disclaimer the City says Slattery's center must post—in both English and Spanish—at its entrance, as well as on all website pages and website advertisements, declaring the following:
"This facility does not have a licensed medical provider on site to provide or supervise all services."
The main problem with the City-mandated disclaimer—and the reason Slattery has refused to post it at his locations in the Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens—is that it isn't true.
In fact, EMC—which operates under the larger umbrella "Evergreen Association"—does employ medical providers who are on site for the center's free ultrasound and STI testing services, which are offered throughout the week on a rotating basis.
In the Bronx, where inspectors from the City's consumer affairs visited three times this fall, EMC offers its medical services on Tuesdays and Fridays, all under the supervision of licensed medical professionals.
On days where EMC isn't staffed with a medical professional, it offers peer counseling, self-administered pregnancy tests and material support including diapers and baby formula. In a twist of irony, that description puts EMC outside the City's own official definition of a "pregnancy services center," and thus, exempt from the law itself.
"We could certainly put up signs, but if we did, they would be false and misleading," Slattery, who started the organization in 1985, said. "The position New York City is taking is that if you don't have full-time medical supervision every hour you're open—even if you're only giving out diapers or clothes on other days of the week, then you're in violation as a non-medical facility."
A Bureaucrat's Dream
The sole vestige of the City's Local Law 17—which the U.S. Second Court of Appeals excoriated in its 2014 decision, Evergreen Association (et al) v. City of New York, as "a bureaucrat's dream"—the requirement is also being leveraged against Avail NYC in Manhattan, which has a hearing scheduled before the same administrative court in January.
Originally, the law essentially forced pregnancy centers to refer women seeking help away from their own offices, while mandating that they prominently advertise the services they do not offer, including abortion and abortion referrals, the morning-after abortion pill or prenatal care.
In what Slattery and others hope to be a preview of an upcoming case before the U.S. Supreme Court, National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA) v. Becerra, the circuit court struck down all of those requirements in January of 2014.
Along with the specific California state law the NIFLA case calls into question, other state and local attempts to force speech from pro-life centers could be directly affected in Illinois and Hawaii, as well as at the local level in San Francisco and Hartford (Conn.).
Previous laws—routinely authored by NARAL Pro-Choice America—have failed to pass Constitutional muster while costing taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars in Baltimore (Md.), Montgomery County (Md.) and Austin (Texas).
"The other side is livid," Slattery said. "They have waited seven years to get anything done and try to stop us, but we don't have to describe ourselves the way they want."
Abortion's Capital City
Within the next month, Slattery says he expects to have heard a ruling on his recent appearance, which will play a major role in charting his course for the weeks and months ahead.
When the initial version of Local Law 17 was put into place by then-mayor Michael Bloomberg in 2011, Slattery and his team at EMC were seven years into reaching women with some of the first mobile ultrasound units in the nation.
That service had to be put on hold as Slattery and his legal representatives at the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) and Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) fought constantly for the right to offer a life-affirming option to abortion-vulnerable women in New York City.
In addition to the ongoing harassment from the City, Slattery and EMC have also spent the better part of five years holding off a subpoena from avowedly pro-abortion New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.
Long considered the nation's abortion capital, more than one in three New York City babies are aborted each year, according to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control.
That staggering reality is one that has kept Slattery in the thick of the battle, even though he's up against an abortion-loyalist government that opposes pro-life work at every turn.
"We've aborted over five million children since 1970," Slattery said. "What I've learned is any time you feel like you've gotten over the top of the hill and everything is comfortable, well think again, because the Enemy is going to come up with new tactics to come after you. And they never end."