Worcester City Councilor Challenges City Solicitor For Citing U.S. Supreme Court Decision As Authority In Crisis Pregnancy Centers Measures

Printed from: https://newbostonpost.com/2023/09/13/worcester-city-councilor-challenges-city-solicitor-for-citing-u-s-supreme-court-decision-as-authority-in-crisis-pregnancy-centers-measures/

A Worcester city councilor who opposes pro-life crisis pregnancy centers chided the city solicitor for using a U.S. Supreme Court decision as an authority without seeking opposing legal opinions.

Thu Nguyen, a councilor-at-large who identifies as non-binary and uses the personal pronouns “they” and “them,” is the principal sponsor of two draft ordinances that seek to regulate crisis pregnancy centers.

Nguyen originally proposed such a measure in July 2022. The measure sought to require that crisis pregnancy centers “must either directly provide or provide referrals for abortions or emergency contraception.”

Since then, Nguyen and other city councilors have discussed other possible versions, including one that would ban what it calls “deceptive advertising” by crisis pregnancy centers.

The city manager and city solicitor (a lawyer who advises city officials on legal matters) have advised the city council not to pursue such measures, out of fear that one or both of the crisis pregnancy centers in Worcester will sue the city and win a judgement that includes costly attorney’s fees the city would have to pay.

About six weeks ago, on August 3, a federal judge blocked enforcement of a comparable statute enacted in July in Illinois, calling it “both stupid and very likely unconstitutional.”

On August 22, Worcester city solicitor Michael Traynor wrote a letter stating his opinion that an ordinance banning “deceptive advertising” by crisis pregnancy centers “would not survive a First Amendment challenge” on free speech grounds because it would target such centers based on their beliefs.

As evidence, he cited a June 2018 U.S. Supreme Court decision (NIFLA v. Becerra) that declared unconstitutional a California state statute that required pro-life crisis pregnancy centers to post information about how to get an abortion, something the pro-life centers oppose. The court found that the state statute “unduly burdens protected speech.”

U.S. Supreme Court decisions are binding precedent for all other courts in the country.

During the Worcester City Council meeting Tuesday, September 12, Nguyen challenged the sources the city solicitor used in his legal opinion, including the U.S. Supreme Court decision.

A transcript of the back-and-forth about the 2018 court decision follows below. (The speakers use the phrase “through the chair” to follow parliamentary procedure.)


City Councilor Thu Nguyen:  I do want to note that another cited source the solicitor used was the NIFLA, which is the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates. I do want to read their mission to all of us, which is that “NIFLA is a national leader in the development of legal guidelines to help member centers convert to licensed medical clinics. Through the NIFLA, Life’s Choice Project, hundreds of these centers have been made successful to convert into medical clinic status.” And so this is actually an organization that supports the creation of CPCs. And did you know that they helped creating, in the creation of CPCs, through the chair to the solicitor?


City Solicitor Michael Treanor:  Through the chair, it really doesn’t matter what their organization stands for. That was the U.S. Supreme Court decision that I was researching and commenting on.


City Councilor Thu Nguyen:  Yeah, so just for the public to know that they actually have one thousand six hundred CPCs throughout the nation, and so I just want to ask through the chair to Mr. Treanor, why do you think these sources were credible sources to cite when writing a legal opinion?


City Solicitor Michael Treanor:  Through the chair to the councilor, usually a U.S. Supreme Court decision is very credible to cite in a legal opinion, and that’s what I did.


City Councilor Thu Nguyen:  I was, just to clarify, I was actually asking about the National Institute of Family Life Advocate that was cited, not the actual case.


City Solicitor Michael Treanor:  NIFLA, as the acronym goes, is the case. I was citing from the case from the U.S. Supreme Court, the decision of the court, not about NIFLA itself as an organization.


City Councilor Thu Nguyen:  Thank you. And so, did you cite in any way the other side of the case, or is it just one-sided?


City Solicitor Michael Treanor:  The court issues a decision, and you cite what the court’s decision is. The court doesn’t give both sides of the issue. It gives what it believes is the interpretation of the case law, that case, the facts, and the U.S. Constitution. And that’s what was cited in the report.


After about an hour 23 minutes of discussion, the city council voted 6-5 not to refer the proposed ordinances to subcommittees. The council later opted (without a roll call vote) to ask the city manager to seek outside legal opinions on the proposed ordinances, including from what Nguyen called “reproductive justice experts.”

“We’re going to reach out to reproductive justice experts and see if there’s an opportunity for legal opinion through that matter,” city manager Eric Batista said. “I don’t know what the cost would be. It could be pro bono, it could not be, and so that’s something that we’re going to have to take into consideration.”

Worcester city councilors plan to discuss the crisis pregnancy centers proposals again during the next city council next meeting, which is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, September 19.


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