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Austin council targets pregnancy centers

WASHINGTON (BP)–Austin, Texas, has become the second jurisdiction in the country to require pregnancy help centers to display signs saying they do not perform abortions.

The ordinance, passed in a unanimous vote April 8 at a city council meeting, will require each pregnancy help center to post at its entrance a sign informing clients it does not provide abortions or contraceptives or make referrals for the services.

Baltimore, Md., is the only other city in the country to adopt such an ordinance. Similar legislation was enacted in December in that city.

Baltimore’s Roman Catholic Archdiocese and the Greater Baltimore Center for Pregnancy Concerns Inc. (GBCP) filed suit March 29 against the city, saying the ordinance violates the pregnancy centers’ First Amendment rights of free speech and free exercise of religion.

The lawsuit also contends the ordinance represents viewpoint discrimination because it does not require abortion clinics to post signs indicating what services they do not provide. GBCP operates three pregnancy centers in Baltimore.

Many pro-life, pregnancy help centers provide such free services as pregnancy tests, ultrasound exams, prenatal care, childbirth classes, testing for sexually transmitted diseases, abstinence education, post-abortion counseling and material assistance. Abortion clinics typically do not provide many of these services.

NARAL Pro-choice Texas, one of the state’s leading abortion rights organizations, promoted the Austin ordinance, urging its constituents to contact council members and ask them to vote for the measure.

The Austin American-Statesman reported that the new law will apply to only four or five facilities in the city and will not affect Planned Parenthood or health clinics that refer clients to abortion and birth control services.

If pregnancy centers do not post a required sign and someone complains about it, the result would be a misdemeanor charge and a fine of up to $450 per offense.
Compiled by Baptist Press Washington bureau chief Tom Strode & Baptist Press staff writer Erin Roach.

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