A federal court in New York ruled this week that forcing pro-life maternal care centers to employ radical pro-abortion employees violates the life-saving organizations’ First Amendment rights to expressive association.
“We are thrilled that a Federal Court in New York affirmed what we knew from the beginning, the need to shield pregnancy resource centers from unconstitutional laws that try to thwart their mission. We are grateful to the Thomas More Society for defending our free speech rights,” Evergreen President Chris Slattery said in a statement.
Evergreen Association, Inc. is a New York City-based company that operates several Expectant Mother clinics and EMC Frontline Pregnancy Centers. Since the organization’s conception in 1985, EMC has helped more than 150,000 people and saved 43,000 babies from abortion.
These health centers choose to employ only staff that believe in the sanctity of life in the womb and oppose extramarital sexual relationships. A 2019 law dubbed the “Boss Bill,” however, sought to change that by asserting abortion is a protected class of employment. That meant the government sought to force Slattery to hire employees whose words and actions oppose Evergreen’s mission to promote life instead of abortion.
The legislation offered no exceptions for religious employers like Slattery, who refuses to hire anyone who expresses support for abortion. Instead, the legislators who penned the bill carved out a private right of action for any employees who feel they are “discriminated against” based on their history with abortion.
Mere months after the “Boss Bill” was codified, Evergreen, with the help of the Thomas More Society, demanded injunctive relief from the state on the grounds that the new law was unconstitutional. A lower court dismissed the pregnancy center’s lawsuit in 2021.
The Feb. 27 ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in New York City, however, reverses that lower court’s decision.
“After weighing all reasonable inferences in Evergreen’s favor, we conclude that Evergreen plausibly alleged that [the Boss Bill] imposes severe burdens on Evergreen’s right to freedom of expressive association,” the court ruled. “The statute forces Evergreen to employ individuals who act or have acted against the very mission of its organization.”
The court agreed Evergreen has every right to “decide whether someone holds certain views— and therefore would be a reliable advocate.” Any dismissal of right, the court noted, encroaches on “Evergreen’s ability to reject employees whose actions suggest that they believe the opposite of the message it is trying to convey.”
“A counselor who espouses pro-life values, but did not regret having had an abortion or would opt to have an abortion in the future, would undercut Evergreen’s message,” Thomas More Society Special Counsel Timothy Belz, who represented Evergreen, said in a statement. “Evergreen’s constitutional right to expressive association allows it to determine that its pro-life views can be conveyed only by those who completely support and affirm the organization’s mission, in both word and deed.”
Belz expressed hope that the court’s most recent ruling will “discourage any state legislature from enacting legislation that would violate an organization’s First Amendment rights, including the right to work with those who share their values.”
The case is headed back to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York, which will determine further proceedings.