State Attorney General’s Office Is Advising Massachusetts Cities and Towns Not To Target Crisis Pregnancy Centers, Two Worcester Officials Say

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The Massachusetts Attorney General’s office is advising local communities not to enact local measures targeting pro-life crisis pregnancy centers out of concerns about lawsuits against them, two Worcester city officials said.

Their comments came during a meeting of the Worcester City Council, which opted earlier this week to delay considering an as-yet-undrafted proposal to ban what supporters call “deceptive advertising” by such organizations. One proposed version would also try to force crisis pregnancy centers to offer information about how to get an abortion.

The city manager, Eric Batista, said he has resisted putting before the council a draft ordinance because he’s worried the city might be vulnerable to a lawsuit challenging it on constitutional grounds. The city counsel, Michael Traynor, noted that if the city loses a federal civil rights lawsuit over such an ordinance the city may end up having to pay stiff attorney’s fees for the lawyers representing the plaintiffs – in Worcester’s case, the two crisis pregnancy centers in the city.

Batista responded to several pointed questions during the meeting Tuesday, July 18 from city councilor Thu Nguyen, who wore a black T-shirt that said “Everyone Loves Someone Who Had An Abortion.”

Nguyen is the original sponsor of the order in July 2022 the city council passed 6-5 directing the city manager to draft an ordinance targeting crisis pregnancy centers. Nguyen wanted to know why the city manager hasn’t done so.

Batista said he has previously explained why during one-on-one conversations with Nguyen.

“… I kept sharing my opinion that putting an ordinance in place would put the city in a legal liability, so I was communicating that we would not, that we were not in a comfortable place to do that. And I didn’t want to go against any potential advisement or off-the-record conversations with the Attorney General’s office that could put us in a legal liability,” Batista said (at 2:15:47 of the video).

Traynor, the city counsel who advises city officials on legal matters, got more specific on that point.

“What I was told was the AG’s office was not recommending that people, that other cities or towns adopt any more of these ordinances,” Traynor said (at 2:11:32 of the video). “They felt the state law was in place, Chapter 93A, deceptive practices, and they were concerned about lawsuits for the communities. And so they just said, informally, we’re not recommending you go forward. They didn’t tell me not to do it, they didn’t say you can’t do it, it was just this is what they were recommending to other towns, because the towns are more frequently in touch with the AG’s office on adoption of bylaws than cities are.”

New Boston Post contacted a spokesman for the Massachusetts Attorney General’s office Thursday morning, but hadn’t receive a response by deadline late Thursday afternoon.

C.J. Doyle, executive director of the Catholic Action League of Massachusetts, praised the actions of the city manager and city counsel after the meeting, and noted the Attorney General’s office purported coolness toward such measures.

“It is a glaring sign … of the manifest extremism and the patent unconstitutionality of this measure that even the Massachusetts Attorney General’s office, dominated in recent years by some of the most strident abortion proponents in Bay State history, is now advising against this profoundly problematic ordinance,” Doyle said in a written statement.

The cities of Cambridge and Somerville have adopted ordinances aimed at crisis pregnancy centers, which provide free products and services to women with problem pregnancies in hopes of helping them and persuading them not to have an abortion. But neither Cambridge nor Somerville has a crisis pregnancy center, so those cities are unlikely to be sued over the ordinances.

Supporters and opponents of crisis pregnancy centers disagree over whether the centers engage in deceptive advertising designed to lure pregnant women who want an abortion so they can give them a pro-life pitch. Supporters say they don’t; opponents say they do.

Traynor condemned deceptive practices. But he said he agrees with legal observers who find legal measures imposing restrictions specifically on them to be unconstitutional.

“It’s a content-based regulation, it’s viewpoint discrimination, and it’s very under-inclusive and it’s vague. The state law, you go to court and a judge decides if something’s deceptive. The ordinances that were adopted in Somerville and Cambridge leaves it up to municipal actors to decide something’s deceptive. It just opens up the door to all these constitutional claims, and quite frankly, my opinion was it would not withstand those constitutional challenges,” Traynor said (at 2:12:42 of the video).

Several Worcester city councilors said they have received a letter from the Massachusetts Family Institute urging them not to adopt an ordinance targeting crisis pregnancy centers and threatening them with a lawsuit if they do.

A supporter of the proposed ordinance, city councilor Khrystian King, said the council should get a draft version to consider and weigh all the circumstances, including the possibility of losing a lawsuit over it.

“This body, Mr. Chairman, has a right to determine for ourselves if standing up for people who could be harmed, who could lose their life, who could be losing also life decisions. Is that worth a legal battle? That’s for us to decide, Mr. Chairman. That’s for us to decide,” King said (at 2:33:08 of the video).

Mayor Joseph Petty, who chairs the city council, said he supports Planned Parenthood and the deceptive-practices bylaw against crisis pregnancy centers, but that the threat of losing a costly lawsuit over such an ordinance has made him change his mind about supporting it.

After a discussion of more than an hour and a half on Tuesday, Petty delayed further consideration of the matter until the city council’s meeting in August.


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