We’re representing three pregnancy centers against the City of Austin in court today, combatting their targeted effort against charitable centers that are pro-life.
Liberty Institute, on behalf of three Austin, TX-area pregnancy resource centers, opposed an unconstitutional and newly proposed city ordinance requiring pregnancy centers, under the threat of criminal penalties, to disclose government-mandated information about their services at their front entrances—information the pregnancy centers already provide to women inside their facilities. At the council meeting last Thursday, the Council voted to repeal the first ordinance. The Council then voted, however, to enact a newly proposed ordinance that suffers from many of the same constitutional defects.
“We are disappointed that the Austin City Council passed the amended ordinance and disregarded the Constitution, the holdings of three Federal District Courts, and discriminated against charitable pregnancy centers that serve the women of Austin,” said Erin Leu, attorney with the Liberty Institute. “The amended ordinance is a blatant violation of the First Amendment. We are confident that the Federal Court will strike it down as unlawful.”
Since the Austin City Council chose to pass the new proposal, Liberty Institute’s clients, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Austin, Catholic Charities of Central Texas, the Austin Pregnancy Resource Center, and the South Austin Pregnancy Resource Center, will proceed with their federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the ordinance. In three other federal district court cases in other jurisdictions, federal judges have held similar ordinances unconstitutional.
Liberty Institute discusses with KXAN news:
Austin City Council Ignores Advice of Its Own Lawyers, Proposes Another Unconstitutional Pregnancy OrdinanceJanuary 24, 2012
AUSTIN, TX, January 24, 2012—Today, Liberty Institute, on behalf of three Austin, TX-area pregnancy resource centers submitted a comment letter to the Mayor, City Council members and attorneys for the City of Austin, opposing as unconstitutional a newly proposed city ordinance requiring pregnancy centers, under the threat of criminal penalties, to disclose government-mandated information about their services at their front entrances, information that the pregnancy centers already provide to women inside their facilities.
On January 26, the Austin City Council will discuss Chapter 10-9 of the Austin City Code, which, last week, the City’s Law Department recommended should be repealed. In addition to repealing the unconstitutional ordinance, the Austin City Council will also consider amending the ordinance. The newly proposed ordinance, however, suffers from many of the same defects including unfair application to facilities the City disagrees with and violates the First Amendment because it is compelled speech and discriminates on the basis of viewpoint.
“We encourage the Austin City Council to follow the recommendations of its own lawyers and simply repeal the current ordinance that the City never enforced and is already the subject of a federal lawsuit, and do nothing more. This rogue Council has now proposed a new ordinance that is even more unconstitutional and shows that Mayor Leffingwell and Member Spelman would rather waste taxpayer dollars in court then do what’s best for the people,” said Jonathan Saenz, an attorney and director of legislative affairs for Liberty Institute in Austin.
Coauthors of the letter include former Texas Supreme Court Justice Raul Gonzalez, David Lill, and, attorneys with Liberty Institute, who are co-counsel representing three Austin area pregnancy resource centers in the pending federal lawsuit, Roman Catholic Diocese of Austin, et al. v. City of Austin.
If the Austin City Council fails to repeal the original ordinance or passes an amended ordinance as proposed, Liberty Institute’s clients, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Austin, Catholic Charities of Central Texas, the Austin Pregnancy Resource Center, and the South Austin Pregnancy Resource Center, will proceed with their federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the ordinance. In three other federal district court cases in other jurisdictions, federal judges have held similar ordinances unconstitutional.
Liberty Institute is a non-profit legal firm defending and restoring religious freedom across America.
Click here to see the full release.
The Texas Sonogram law is now in full effect as of January 13, 2012, as ordered by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. Yes, every abortion clinic and abortion doctor in Texas must follow this law, now. Any doctor seeking to perform an abortion on a woman in Texas must follow this law that protects women and makes it illegal for doctors to prevent a woman from seeing a sonogram image. During the legislative process, we heard so many women testify about how abortion clinic doctors would not let them see the sonogram image.
The Sonogram law requires:
1. A woman must have the sonogram displayed so she can see it.
2. A woman must have a sonogram performed on her.
3. The baby’s heartbeat must be made audible so the woman can hear it.
4. A woman must be given a description of the sonogram image.
5. A woman must have a face to face meeting with the abortion doctor.
6. A woman must be given this information 24 hours before the abortion.
If a doctor does not provide a woman with this information, the doctor faces civil penalties.
Spread the word, and make sure every woman in Texas knows that she now has significant protections in the law when she goes into an abortion clinic. If you hear of any doctor or abortion clinic not following this law, please contact our office immediately at 512-478-2220.
By the way, big thanks goes to Attorney General Greg Abbott and Texas Solicitor General Jonathan Mitchell for doing an excellent job defending the Texas Sonogram law!!
U.S. Fifth Circuit Court Upholds Law Stating Sonograms Must Be Performed 24 Hours Before Abortions
AUSTIN, Texas, January 10, 2012 – Today, Liberty Institute announced a major pro-life victory when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit declared constitutional the recently enacted Texas Sonogram Law, also known as HB 15. The Fifth Circuit’s decision overturned a controversial ruling by U.S. District Judge Sparks, which enjoined the Texas law co-authored by Senator Dan Patrick and Representative Sid Miller and was signed into law by Governor Rick Perry in May 2011. The law requires doctors and certified sonographers to perform a sonogram on women seeking an abortion at least 24 hours before the procedure.
“This is one of the most important victories in the past 10 years for informed consent for women seeking an abortion,” said Jonathan Saenz, Liberty Institute Attorney who heads the office at the Texas Capitol and provided the main legal testimony for the bill during the legislative process. “Women and unborn children in Texas are safer today because of this decision and no longer subject to the abuse of abortion doctors who deny women critical medical information.”
HB 15, which amends the 2003 Texas Woman’s Right to Know Act (“WRKA”), requires the physician “who is to perform an abortion” to perform and display a sonogram of the fetus, make audible the heart auscultation of the fetus for the woman to hear, as well as explain to her the results of each procedure and to wait 24 hours, in most cases, between these disclosures and performing the abortion.
Senator Patrick said, “I was always confident that our bill would survive any constitutional question because our goal from the beginning was to protect the woman’s right to know, protect the unborn and protect the constitution.”
Representative Sid Miller, said, “I commend the court of appeals for this just decision which confirms that women have every right to be fully informed about the abortion decision and that my fellow Texas lawmakers who supported this law stayed within the bounds of U.S. Supreme Court precedent.”
In August, on behalf of Senator Patrick and Representative Miller and in support of the law, Liberty Institute filed an amicus brief in the lawsuit seeking to strike down Texas’ new sonogram law (HB 15), which was originally scheduled to go into effect on September 1, 2011. Senator Patrick and Representative Miller were the authors of HB 15 in the Texas Senate and Texas House of Representatives, respectively. Liberty Institute argued that HB 15 is consistent with The Supreme Court and only requires the disclosure of truthful and accurate information to allow women to make informed decisions regarding their pregnancies.
Read the Fifth Circuit Court’s Opinion here.
Download this press release here.
Breaking News — Texas Sonogram law ruled constitutional! The Fifth Circuit Court (Edith Jones opinion) holds recently enacted Texas Sonogram law constitutional. The Fifth Circuit reversed Judge Sparks, vacating his granting of preliminary injunction, which had stopped enforcement of the Texas Sonogram law.
Check back to the blog today for a full press release with quotes from the bill’s authors, Senator Dan Patrick and Representative Sid Miller. Liberty Institute, on behalf of Senator Dan Patrick and Representative Sid Miller, had filed an amicus brief with the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in support of the law.
You can download the 5th Circuit Court opinion here
Today, the Sonogram Bill (HB 15) will go before the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans. The State of Texas will be seeking to overturn U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks ruling that put on hold key provisions of Texas’ new sonogram law. The Sonogram Bill, which requires doctors or certified sonographers to perform a sonogram on women seeking an abortion at least 24 hours before the procedure, was overwhelmingly passed by the Texas Legislature and signed into law by Governor Perry this past legislative session.
Liberty Institute, on behalf of Texas State Senator Dan Patrick and Representative Sid Miller – authors of the Sonogram Bill in the Texas Senate and House respectively, filed an amicus brief with the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in support of the law. Liberty Institute argues that HB 15 is consistent with Supreme Court precedents and only requires the disclosure of truthful and accurate information to allow women to make informed decisions regarding their pregnancies. Liberty Institute was also involved in helping lawmakers draft the best language for this legislation and provided legal advocacy at numerous legislative hearings on this matter when pro-abortion advocates tried to stop this effort.
Read the legislators’ amicus brief filed with the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in Texas Medical Professionals Performing Abortion Services v. Lakey.
Liberty Institute released the following press release today:
Plano, Texas, December 22, 2011—Today, days before Christmas, Liberty Institute filed a writ of certiorari with the U.S. Supreme Court in Morgan v. Swanson, (known nationwide as the “candy cane” case), asking the Court to hold government officials accountable for violating students’ First Amendment rights. Liberty Institute filed the petition on behalf of Plano ISD students who, during Christmas 2003, were banned by school officials from distributing candy cane pens, pencils and other gifts containing religious messages to classmates during non-curricular activities and after school—a clear violation of their constitutional rights to free speech and free exercise of religion.
“Every school official knows that engaging in religious viewpoint discrimination against students is unconstitutional,” said Kelly Shackelford, Esq., president/CEO of Liberty Institute. “Saying that school officials can engage in such religious discrimination without any responsibility is not the law and would send exactly the wrong message to millions of school children and their families.”
The petition asks The Supreme Court to review a deeply divided en banc decision of the Fifth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, which narrowly granted two school officials, Lynn Swanson, Principal of Thomas Elementary School, and Jackie Bombchill, Principal of Rasor Elementary School, qualified immunity, despite numerous constitutional violations. While recognizing that the school officials violated the Constitution, a majority of the court determined that the law, however, was not clearly established enough to hold them responsible. In July 2010, a unanimous panel of the Fifth Circuit denied the school officials qualified immunity recognizing that the law prohibiting viewpoint discrimination is clearly established and also rejected the school officials’ argument that elementary school students have no First Amendment rights.
Former U.S. Solicitor General Paul Clement, who will argue the “Obamacare” lawsuit in the Supreme Court in March, serves as co-counsel with Liberty Institute and argued the case alongside former U.S. Solicitor General Kenneth Starr at the Fifth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in September. Clement also co-wrote the petition for review to The Supreme Court.
After eight years in litigation, the candy cane case has come to symbolize what many call “the war on Christmas.” Since 2003, the case has affected change throughout the nation, reshaping school district policies, influencing changes to state law, evoking questions about religious expression in schools and forcing the examination of student’s First Amendment rights. By taking the case, the U.S. Supreme Court would likely clarify the law nationwide, which affects over 40 million students.
Liberty Institute is a non-profit legal firm that works to restore and defend religious freedoms in schools, churches and the public arena. Visit www.LibertyInstitute.org or www.CandyCaneCase.com for more information.
Liberty Institute Files Brief to Support Sonogram Bill, On Behalf of Sen. Dan Patrick, Rep. Sid MillerNovember 4, 2011
Today, on behalf of Texas Senator Dan Patrick and Texas Representative Sid Miller, Liberty Institute filed an amicus brief the in appeal of the preliminary injunction that put on hold key portions of Texas’ new sonogram law (HB 15). Senator Patrick and Representative Miller were the authors of HB 15 in the Texas Senate and Texas House of Representatives, respectively. Liberty Institute argues that HB 15 is consistent with Supreme Court precedents and only requires the disclosure of truthful and accurate information to allow women to make informed decisions regarding their pregnancies.
“Liberty Institute has been an important partner in passing this legislation since I first filed it in 2007,” said Senator Dan Patrick (R-Houston). “I hope our work will finally be allowed to help the women and unborn children of Texas. I am disappointed that we have to wait even one more day for the protections we passed this last legislative session. I hope the Fifth Circuit moves quickly to allow women to be fully informed before making this life altering decision.”
HB 15, which requires doctors or certified sonographers to perform a sonogram on women seeking an abortion at least 24 hours before the procedure, was signed into law by Gov. Rick Perry on May 24, however, key portions of the law were struck down by U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks.
“Just as doctor gives medically-relevant explanation of his or her patient’s condition before even a minor procedure, an abortion provider should offer such information to women seeking abortions,” said Rep. Miller (R-Stephenville). “I’m hopeful that all of the sonogram bill will be upheld, so women can be fully informed.”
Read the legislators’ amicus brief filed today with the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in Texas Medical Professionals Performing Abortion Services v. Lakey.
Liberty Institute is pleased to announce a victory for the nation’s veterans, for their families, and for freedom. Since May, Liberty Institute has been fighting for religious freedom at the cemeteries run by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. This week, Federal District Judge Lynn N. Hughes signed a consent decree ordering the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to stop banning prayer and the mention of “God” at events, including funerals, held at national cemeteries. The case, Rainey v. VA, initially concerned the Houston National Cemetery. But when attorneys from Liberty Institute questioned authorities at the top levels of the VA, they uncovered national policies that are hostile to religion. The VA must now change these policies to ensure that religious liberty is protected. The Houston National Cemetery must also reopen its chapel, which had been closed and used as a storage room.
Honor guards from the Veterans of Foreign Wars and The American Legion were being prevented from praying or mentioning “God” at military funerals at the Houston National Cemetery. As a result of Houston National Cemetery’s policies, families were being deprived of the full VFW or The American Legion burial ritual. The National Memorial Ladies, who provide condolence cards to families of veterans at funerals, were being prevented from writing “God Bless.” The consent decree stops all of this unlawful religious discrimination. Jeff Mateer, Liberty Institute’s general counsel, explained, “The decree not only impacts religious freedom in Houston, but all VA cemeteries nationwide.”
Visit LibertyInstitute.org for all the details on this important victory, including the judges’ order. And, check out our new victory video on this case:
LIBERTY INSTITUTE FILES LAWSUIT ON BEHALF OF AUSTIN DIOCESE AND THREE PREGNANCY CENTERS AGAINST CITY OF AUSTIN
City Ordinance Compels False and Misleading Speech in Violation of First Amendment
AUSTIN, Texas, October 6, 2011 – Today, on behalf of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Austin and three Pregnancy Resource Centers (PRCs), Liberty Institute filed a lawsuit against the City of Austin over its unconstitutional ordinance requiring PRCs to post signs at their entrances stating what services they do not provide, such as abortions and birth control drugs and devices. This ordinance compelling speech is part of a coordinated nationwide campaign by NARAL Pro-Choice America specifically designed to deter women from visiting PRCs and to restrict their free speech rights.
“The decision by the Austin City Council to compel false and misleading speech is a clear violation of the pregnancy centers’ constitutional rights and is a despicable ploy to deter women and families from using these charitable centers,” said Jonathan Saenz, director of Legislative Affairs at Liberty Institute. “The City of Austin is forcing a national pro-abortion agenda on its citizens at the expense of women and their unborn children, who greatly benefit from the free pregnancy-related services offered at these centers.”
The ordinance, which is the first of its kind in Texas, requires each PRC to post a sign at its entrance stating that it does not provide or refer for abortions or birth control services. Two of the pregnancy centers refer married clients to primary physicians for birth control, and the third center provides information to women about natural family planning and abstinence, two recognized forms of birth control.
There is no requirement forcing abortion facilities to post signs or provide disclaimers stating what services they do not provide for women. The ordinance is the result of deliberate and targeted discrimination against PRCs by NARAL and the City of Austin.
“The unlawful compelled speech that NARAL and the City of Austin are forcing on PRCs is nothing more than an attempt to limit the options offered to women in pregnancy situations,” said Judge Raul A. Gonzalez, former Texas Supreme Court Justice and co-counsel for Plaintiffs. “Rather than allow women to actually have a choice and consider all of their options, NARAL and the City of Austin have chosen to bully these non-profit pregnancy resource centers who provide valuable services to women. Less competition means more money, and the abortion industry is all about the money.”
NARAL pushed the Austin ordinance as part of a national strategy designed to restrict PRCs outreach to women in need of pregnancy resources and to solely promote and support abortion providers. Currently, Austin is the fourth local government in America to force PRCs to post signs. Similar ordinances compelling speech have passed in Baltimore, Montgomery County and New York City, but were enjoined by federal judges as violations of the First Amendment.
“The Roman Catholic Diocese of Austin, Catholic Charities of Central Texas and the Gabriel Project of Austin provide women in crisis pregnancy with life affirming options,” said Bishop Joe Vasquez. “The ordinance enacted by the City of Austin impedes our ability to perform this ministry effectively and it is unjust. We turn now to the courts to protect our constitutional rights.”
The Roman Catholic Diocese of Austin, Catholic Charities of Central Texas, Austin Pregnancy Resource Center and South Austin Pregnancy Resource Center are Plaintiffs in the complaint filed against the City of Austin. Liberty Institute will continue to defend the rights of their clients and the countless women and children they represent.