FORT WAYNE, Ind. — A federal judge has ruled that it was not improper for an Indiana public transportation company to refuse to allow a health care referral service to place advertising cards in its buses because of its pro-life stance.
As previously reported, Women’s Health Link, a free referral service that assists women needing physical, emotional, mental or spiritual health care, sought last fall to place advertising cards in Fort Wayne buses that simply stated, “You are not alone: Free resource for women seeking health care.”
However, the transportation company Citilink reportedly denied Women’s Health Link’s request twice because of its affiliation with Allen County Right to Life, and because the organization’s website discussed what it classified as “controversial issues,” presumably abortion.
“We feel that this ad does not educate the general public or raise awareness regarding a significant social issue in a viewpoint neutral manner,” Citilink’s response to Women’s Health Link stated. “We do not choose to post this ad as a PSA.”
Officials also explained that the organization’s connection to Allen County Right to life was “problematic because Right to Life has a particular preference as to how to deal with women’s health care needs, i.e., it promotes life-affirming alternatives to abortion.”
In its complaint filed last April in federal court, the legal organization Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) contended on behalf of Women’s Health Link that Citilink’s advertising policies wrongfully give “officials unbridled discretion to accept or reject private expression protected by the First Amendment.” The Christian legal group also outlined that the policies infringe Women’s Health Link’s “fundamental rights, including its right to freedom of speech and freedom of association.”
But on Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Robert Miller Jr., nominated to the bench by then-President Ronald Reagan, granted summary judgment to Citilink, finding no wrongdoing on the part of the public transportation system.
“The policy unequivocally prohibits advertising that: (1) implies or declares an endorsement by Citilink of any service or point of view; (2) is non-commercial; and/or (3) expresses or advocates opinions or positions on political, religious, or moral issues,” he wrote. “It’s evident on the face of the advertising policy that Citilink intended to
exclude all speech on political, religious, or moral issues, and the record presents no indication that it implemented or enforced that policy in a ‘viewpoint discriminatory manner…’”
Miller said that because Women’s Health Link takes a position on abortion as a group, even though abortion was not mentioned in the placards, the organization’s request to place the cards on buses was therefore rejected.
“The undisputed evidence shows that [Citilink’s representative] rejected Women’s Health Link’s first submission because its advertisement was noncommercial, and rejected its second (the public service ad) because she read the ‘life affirming’ reference on the website as advocating a position or opinion on abortion–a political, religious and moral issue that the advertising policy expressly precluded,” he declared.
Miller stated that the rejection was also fair as no evidence was presented that Citilink had ever allowed advertising from pro-abortion groups either.
ADF says that it disagrees with the decision. It has not yet announced whether the ruling will be appealed.
“The First Amendment protects freedom of speech for all people, regardless of their political or religious beliefs. City officials can’t run nearly identical ads from other non-profit groups, such as the United Way, and then single out Women’s Health Link for censorship,” said ADF legal counsel Jonathan Scruggs in a statement. “Government has a responsibility to ensure that all organizations benefit from community advertising. For that reason, we will consult with our client regarding appeal.”