NEW YORK – A Catholic community of religious sisters who operate a crisis pregnancy center in New York City won a lawsuit against the state’s health department on Nov. 8, with the department agreeing not to include the community in a probe of other pro-life pregnancy centers.
In September 2022, the Sisters of Life sued then-New York State Department of Health Commissioner Mary Bassett over a New York bill passed that June that created a task force to study and report on the impact of so-called “limited service pregnancy centers,” which are defined in the bill as organizations that advocate for women to continue their pregnancy.
The Sisters of Life fit that bill, as they do not refer women for abortions at their crisis pregnancy center.
Founded in 1991 by the late Cardinal John O’Connor of New York, the Sisters of Life offer care for women in crisis pregnancies at their visitation in lower Manhattan. That care includes providing housing, maternity clothes, baby formula, and other supplies, and after birth connecting women and their children with a variety of free medical, legal, and social services.
Without the lawsuit, the New York bill would’ve allowed government officials access to the religious community’s internal documents and records. They said they’re “grateful” for the Nov. 8 order.
“As Sisters of Life, it’s our privilege to walk alongside each woman who comes to us and to stand in solidarity with her, helping her to move in freedom, not in fear,” Sister Maris Stella, Vicar General of the Sisters of Life, said in a statement.
“We are grateful for this victory, which protects our right to continue to uphold and defend the beauty and strength of women,” she said.
The New York State Department of Health did not respond to a Crux request for comment on the order.
In the order, issued by United States District Judge Jennifer Rearden and agreed to by both parties, the state health department agreed to not take any enforcement action against the Sisters of Life for “nonresponse or noncompliance with any survey, document request, or information request of any kind.”
The order will end when the health department publishes the report mandated by the bill. It also states that the order applies to the Sisters of Life and only the Sisters of Life, and does not protect any other organization from participation in the health department report.
The order is “final and binding,” so there is no sort of appeal the health department can pursue.
The bill at the heart of the lawsuit was passed as part of a six-bill pro-abortion package enacted by Governor Kathy Hochul in June 2022, ahead of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. The package of bills essentially made New York an abortion safe haven for local and out-of-state abortion seekers.
The legislation protects medical professionals from misconduct charges for providing legal abortions, prevents the extradition of defendants in abortion related cases if they’re charged in another state, and protects the address information of employees and volunteers working with abortion providers.
Stella, in response to the lawsuit victory, said the sisters remain committed to supporting women.
“In over 30 years of serving women in the State of New York, we have learned that what a woman really needs is to be seen, heard, and believed in, which is why we are committed to providing the necessary emotional, practical, and spiritual support for her to flourish,” Stella said.
“We are called to bring hope, comfort, and joy to women who feel they have nowhere else to turn,” Stella continued. “The judge’s order will protect us as we continue our ministry.”
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