Pregnancy Center Files Religious Discrimination Suit Against N.Y. Over Compulsory Hiring

N.Y.'s Boss Bill is 'a fundamental effort to crush the pro-life movement'

People walk across 42nd street at Time Square in Manhattan on January 14, 2020 in New York City. (Photo by JOHANNES EISELE/AFP via Getty Images)
February 8, 2020

A charity that helps pregnant women and newborns is fighting a New York state law that requires nonprofits and religious institutions to hire employees who openly contradict their beliefs.

EMC Frontline, a crisis pregnancy center, is suing to block New York from enforcing the so-called Boss Bill, which state Democrats passed in 2019. The law prohibits employers from discriminating against prospective workers based on their beliefs about abortion. EMC founder Chris Slattery said the law represents "a fundamental effort to crush the pro-life movement" by targeting pro-life church institutions and nonprofits.

"When you have a pro-life group that’s dedicated to work[ing] against abortion, for them to hire an opponent is patently absurd," Slattery told the Washington Free Beacon. "For Catholic schools to have to hire pro-choice school teachers, priests, bishops, deacons—it’s patently absurd."

The law prohibits employers from deciding not to hire an employee based on the employee's or an employee's dependent's "reproductive health decisions." It also prevents employers from accessing "an employee’s personal information regarding the employee's or the dependent's reproductive health decision making," including "the decision to use or access a particular drug, device, or medical service." New York City passed a similar law shortly after Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the statewide "Boss Bill" in November. 

EMC is represented by the Thomas More Society, a nonprofit religious liberty firm. The lawsuit argues that the laws infringe on both the 1st and 14th Amendment rights of New York residents. The complaint states that the pregnancy center "hires and employs only employees who adhere" to the center's stance on abortion. Under the law, this would be considered unlawful discrimination. The complaint criticizes the law as an "existential" threat because of "crippling fines and statutory damages" that would be imposed in the case of a violation. Slattery said the damage extends beyond religious institutions.

"When it comes to a secular pro-life group, it goes against the mission of the organization. It goes against our freedom of association," Slattery said.

Neither the Cuomo administration nor Mayor Bill de Blasio's office returned requests for comment.

Timothy Belz, special counsel for the Thomas More Society, said the new law threatens to violate EMC’s rights "in multiple ways."

"Expectant Mother Care and EMC Frontline exist for the purpose of advocating for and providing desperate women with alternatives to abortion. Forcing them to hire someone who promotes abortion would completely undermine their mission," he said in a statement. "These state and city laws also violate our client’s right to free speech and right to due process." 

The suit follows the Supreme Court’s 2018 decision in National Institute of Family and Life Advocates v. Becerra, which struck down a California law that required crisis pregnancy centers to advertise abortion and contraceptive services to their clients. The 5-4 ruling found the law violated the First Amendment.

Cuomo has a long history of advancing radical abortion positions. In 2014, he said that pro-life, pro-gun voters "have no place" in the state. In addition to the "Boss Bill," Cuomo also signed a law expanding late-term abortion access in 2019. 

Slattery stressed the implications of the law beyond a predominantly liberal state like New York. "It is literally about the survival of the pro-life movement in our country," he said. "If you can’t be pro-life in the United States, whose cause is next?"