Bill aimed at protecting and informing women seeking pregnancy related services as well as truth in advertising

March 2, 2011, New York – At today’s Stated Council meeting, members of the City Council will vote to strengthen protections for women seeking reproductive healthcare in New York City. The goal of Intro-371-A is to ensure that women are fully informed about which pregnancy-related services are offered at a given facility and by whom the services are provided.

To ensure that women are fully informed about the services pregnancy services centers offer, this legislation will require such centers to:

• Inform their clients whether or not they have a licensed medical provider on staff;
• Disclose the kind of pregnancy-related services provided by the center; and
• Provide confidentiality protections for clients’ personal and health information.

The Council will also vote on a housing bill that will further penalize bad landlords who don’t adequately provide heat to tenants.

“Our goal here is not to shut down these pregnancy service centers. We just want to keep them honest and tell women the kind of services they provide,” said Speaker Christine C. Quinn. “We want women to make an informed decision about the health care services they are seeking and not duped by false advertising. Nobody has the right to prevent a woman from taking care of her health. Women will now feel confident in their personal and legal health care decisions – and know that no one will be allowed to stand in their way.”

Pregnancy Services Centers provide services to women who are or may be pregnant. The Centers either (1) provide obstetric ultrasounds, obstetric sonograms or prenatal care; or (2) have the appearance of a licensed medical facility. Pregnancy Services Centers are not licensed by the State of New York or the federal government to provide medical or pharmaceutical services to women who are or may be pregnant, and do not include physicians’ individual or group medical practices.

“This bill is a truth in advertising measure. To be clear, it only regulates centers that are deliberately trying to deceive women into thinking they are in a medical facility when they are not. What those centers are doing is not only dishonest, it is incredibly dangerous,” Council Member Jessica Lappin said, sponsor of the bill. “We are passing this bill to protect women and their health.”

This bill will require Pregnancy Services Centers to inform clients that women who are or may be pregnant are encouraged by the DOHMH to consult with a licensed medical provider. Additionally, Pregnancy Services Centers will be required to disclose whether they do or do not:
• have a licensed medical provider on staff;
• provide or refer for prenatal care;
• provide or refer for abortion; and
• provide or refer for emergency contraception.

Notice will be in both English and Spanish in the form of a posted sign visible at entry and in waiting areas as well in any advertising of services published.

“I am proud to support this bill,” said Health Chair Carmen del Arroyo. “This piece of consumer protection legislation will ensure that women are not misled when seeking reproductive health care. By requiring these centers to disclose what services are offered and what kinds of referrals are made, we are further protecting women from unscrupulous individuals. This bill strikes the right balance and ensures that when women go to these facilities they will be in the know, as well as have their personal information protected. I would like to thank Speaker Quinn, the bill’s sponsor Council Member Lappin and Chair Ferreras for all of their hard work on this critical issue.

The bill also requires the centers to afford confidentiality protections to clients’ personal and health information, and prohibits the centers from disclosing personal or health information without the written consent of the client. The confidentiality requirement does not prohibit the Center’s staff from reporting child abuse as defined under State law.

“This bill is not about limiting free speech or which side you are on in the abortion debate- this is about consumer protection. This is about bringing transparency and truth to an unregulated industry that has been said to mislead the consumer. With this law, we can take the doubt out of such practices by setting strict guidelines on how these establishments must represent themselves,” said Julissa Ferreras, Chair of the Council’s Woman’s Issues Committee. If the disclosure requirements are violated, the offender will receive a civil penalty from between $200 to $1000 for the first violation, and $500 to $2,500 for each additional violation. For three or more violations, within two years, DCA is authorized to close the center for up to five days. If the violations are remedied, DCA can re-open the Center.

The Council will also vote on three resolutions that call on congress to not limit funding on family planning services, to not raise taxes on health plans and to not restrict women’s access to health care providers.

The three resolutions will specifically call upon:
• the United States House of Representatives to vote against a bill that will restrict access to women’s reproductive health services by severely restricting funding for family planning providers;
• the United States Senate to protect family planning funds and reject the total defunding of Planned Parenthood;
• the United States House of Representatives to vote against a bill that will raise taxes on millions of Americans and severely limit women’s right to access abortion services; and
• the United States House of Representatives to vote a bill that would eliminate abortion coverage in the health insurance exchanges by prohibiting federal funds from going toward any part of the costs of any health plan that covers abortion.

“We need to send a message to our federal representatives, on both sides of the aisle, that we cannot afford to deny women their right of choice,” said Council Member Julissa Ferraras, sponsor of one of the resolutions. “The long term financial impact on our city and state can be devastating if we allow Congress to limit a woman’s right of choice. Limiting access to options before and during an early pregnancy is not our job. It is for the mother to decide what is best for her. It is our job to provide options for our women and let them choose. We have seen what happens when government tries to interfere in a woman’s right to choose and prevent access – many of us remember far too well the 70’s of alleyway abortions that resulted not just in the termination of a fetus, but the death of the mother.”

“I am pleased that today the Council has sent a strong message to Washington,” said Health Chair Carmen del Arroyo. “The message is that we support a woman’s right to choose and access affordable reproductive health care and is firmly opposed to several anti-choice actions taken recently by the House of Representatives. Resos 666-A, 670-A and 672-A oppose three pieces of federal legislation that are dangerous to the health and well-being of women and I am proud to support them.”

The Council will also vote to renew the authority of the Finance and Environmental Protection Commissioners to sell liens for unpaid property taxes and water and sewer charges. Under the leadership of Council Member Al Vann, the bill for the first time codifies a robust set of procedural and substantive protections for homeowners in the lien sale process, including a standard zero-down payment plan, enhanced outreach to enroll homeowners in property tax exemption programs that would remove them from a lien sale, and lower interest rates on smaller properties.

“Homeownership is a major component of stability for many of our city’s families and neighborhoods,” said Council Member Al Vann. “This bill will provide many necessary protections for homeowners – both before and after a lien may be sold – and especially for our senior citizen, disabled, low-income and veteran homeowners. We must do all we can to protect the economic health of New Yorkers when possible and this bill ensures that our city agencies will take significant steps to protect homeowners, who like many New Yorkers are trying to withstand the current economic pressures.”

In addition, for the first time, the City will be authorized to sell liens on the basis of Emergency Repair Program (ERP) liens placed by the Dept. of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD), providing an important enforcement tool for HPD against negligent landlords.

“The bill we are voting on today seeks to implement an enforcement mechanism to ensure that people who owe money to the City pay up!” said Council Member Dilan, Chair of the Housing and Buildings Committee. “However, we also realize that during these tough economic times, people on fixed incomes and those who through no fault of their own fall on hard times, are sometimes unable to pay their bills on time. This bill takes those economic hardships into account by including certain protections for senior citizens, veterans, the disabled, low-income homeowners and small property owners.”

“This legislation is a huge victory for New York City’s homeowners,” said Finance Chair Domenic M. Recchia, Jr. “It gives the Department of Environmental Protection the tools it needs to recoup money on negligent bills, while at the same time providing important protections for families struggling to make ends meet. I hope DEP and the Water Board takes this legislation into account when they set the next water rate increase, so we can provide families drowning in bills with even more relief.”

The Council will also vote on a bill that would amend the Housing and Maintenance Code so a landlord will receive a higher penalty of up to $500 to $1,000 for subsequent violations related to failing to provide adequate heat and hot water when these violations occur within two consecutive calendar years or Heat Seasons.

“For too long bad landlords have profited by withholding heat from tenants every winter. Passing the HEAT Act will toughen penalties on those repeat offenders and make them think twice before leaving tenants in the cold,” said Public Advocate de Blasio, who sponsored the bill. “I applaud Speaker Quinn, Housing Chair Dilan and members of the City Council for taking up this bill with such urgency this winter.”

“Heat is not just an amenity in New York City, it’s a necessity,” said Speaker Christine C. Quinn. “It is essential for the life and well-being of residents across the five boroughs. This bill will take that extra step in cracking down on those greedy landlords who fail to provide heat for their tenants. I want to thank Public Advocate Bill deBlasio and Housing Chair Erik M. Dilan for their work on this.”

“This bill sends a clear message to bad owners that heat and hot water are necessities,” said Council Member Erik Martin Dilan, Chair of the Committee on Housing and Buildings. “If you’re a good landlord you have nothing to worry about. The bill won’t affect you at all. But if you’re looking to not live up to your responsibilities, your costs will go up.”