A Pro-Life Victory in Deep Blue Massachusetts

The following is a Catholic Action League of Massachusetts news release…

The second largest city in New England—Worcester, Massachusetts—has abandoned, at last, any and all efforts to suppress, restrict or even regulate crisis pregnancy centers in the city.

After fifteen months of public debate, parliamentary delays, conflicting legal opinions and a protracted division between the city council and the city administration, Worcester councilors voted on the evening of October 17th to file, or permanently table, the two final versions of a proposed ordinance targeting pro-life pregnancy care centers.

The vote was 7 to 4, with Mayor Joseph Petty and District One City Councilor Sean Rose, who had previously voted in favor of the ordinance, voting in the negative, with Petty remarking that the proposed ordinance was “just flat out unconstitutional.

On July 19, 2022, the Worcester City Council voted 6 to 5 to authorize the City Manager and the City Solicitor to draft an ordinance which would compel crisis pregnancy centers to “directly provide or provide referrals for abortions or emergency contraception.”

As compliance with this proposed ordinance would be a moral impossibility for pro-life Christians, its enactment would have forced the closure of the city’s two pregnancy care centers, Clearway Clinic and Problem Pregnancy.

The measure was sponsored by the state’s first “non-binary” elected official, City Councilor Thu Nguyen, who was endorsed by Planned Parenthood.

In July of 2023 however, it was revealed that City Solicitor Michael Traynor had expressed “great reservations” about the proposed ordinance, believing that it would expose the city to costly litigation, adding that it would likely fail a First Amendment test as “content based regulation.”

In an even more remarkable development, City Manager Eric Batista, who instructed Traynor not to proceed with the draft, admitted that the measure was stalled because of opposition from the Massachusetts Attorney General’s office.

Following a confrontation between the Council and the City Manager on July 18th, Batista instructed Traynor to draft an ordinance for the Council’s consideration.

Traynor produced two proposals, a Deceptive Advertising Ordinance and a Transparency in Advertising Ordinance.

In a memo to the City Manager dated August 22, 2023, Traynor argued against both measures he authored, stating that neither would pass constitutional muster.

The matter was to be taken up on August 22nd, but Councilor Donna Colorio placed a hold on discussion, delaying debate until September 12th.

On September 12th, the only clear consensus which emerged was the obvious unwillingness of councilors to take a straight up or down vote on the issue.

Some councilors asked for additional legal advice. Another wanted it referred to a city council committee. One suggested that it was, properly, a matter for the Legislature.

In the end, Traynor’s two draft ordinances were filed, and a motion by Councilor Nguyen to delay consideration for another week, while the city manager consulted “reproductive justice attorneys,” was passed.

Predictably, an attorney from the pro-abortion Lawyering Project asserted, in a letter to the City Manager on September 29th, that the Deceptive Advertising ordinance was constitutionally permissible.

In the end however, a Council majority disagreed.

Worcester is the second Massachusetts city to reject a measure targeting pregnancy care centers. On August 2nd, the Easthampton City Council failed to override the veto of a similar measure by Mayor Nicole La Chapelle.

Catholic Action League Executive Director C.J. Doyle made the following comment: “While the vote was a victory for human life, religious freedom and constitutional government, its proximate cause was a cold and calculated appreciation of the legal liabilities, and consequent fiscal burdens, that the City of Worcester and its taxpayers would have to bear defending this untenable and extremist legislation in court.

The Massachusetts Family Institute, in threatening a lawsuit against Worcester, no doubt contributed to the more reasonable frame of mind that the council majority eventually settled upon.

There is a lesson to be learned here for the pro-life movement. While the Legislature, the Constitutional Officers and the congressional delegation may be wholly owned subsidiaries of Planned Parenthood, the tentacles of the abortion industry do not seem to reach down as deeply and completely into the political lives of local elected officials.

That means the pro-life movement may still have room to maneuver in the corridors of municipal government in Massachusetts.”