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City of Austin must pay for Pregnancy Resource Centers’ legal defense

The city of Austin, Texas, will pay $480,000 in court and attorney’s fees to five pregnancy resource centers in a settlement following a June 2014 district court ruling that a city ordinance about signage was unconstitutional.

The City Council approved the settlement Aug. 20 after nearly a year of mediation. The amount includes $19,000 in court fees and $461,000 in attorney fees, Texas Lawyer reported.

The suit, Austin Lifecare v. Austin, originated in October 2011 after the City Council passed a law in 2010 that required the centers to post a sign outside their facilities informing visitors that they don’t provide or refer for abortions. Some centers had already posted the information inside. The ordinance also required the centers to inform clients that a “full-time” medical professional was not on-site.

At centers partnering with doctors to offer ultrasounds, the ordinance required signage stating the facility didn’t have a license for the scans, though Alliance Defending Freedom said no such license exists.

Despite revisions to the ordinance, the court struck it down, ruling it was vague and violated the centers’ right to due process.

“They are all ministries. They are all religious-based,” said co-counsel Jeff Mateer from the Liberty Institute. “By being forced to post the sign outside, that was going to be the first encounter with a woman, and it was the government message that was false and misleading. It would then impact their ability to do their ministry.”

The plaintiffs originally sought more than $997,000, but the City Council objected that the amount was based on “excessive, repetitive, or unproductive” hours billed by lawyers, Texas Lawyer reported.

Hiram Sasser, deputy chief counsel of the Liberty Institute, told Texas Lawyer that the lawyers and firms would divide the $480,000 settlement.

“It was in the best interests of everyone to move on,” Sasser said. “We were able to resolve it in a friendly way, and we always try to do that.”

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