The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit ruled Wednesday that the bus system of Fort Wayne, Ind., unconstitutionally refused to accept an ad from Women’s Health Link, a life-affirming health care referral service for women in need.
Arizona-based Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys filed a federal lawsuit in April 2014 against Citilink for denying the ad because the city-run bus company said the referral service’s website contains information on “controversial issues.” In February, ADF attorneys appealed a district court’s decision in Women’s Health Link v. Fort Wayne Public Transportation Corp. to uphold the bus company’s ban.
“A government shouldn’t be censoring ads from a group like Women’s Health Link when it is running nearly identical ads from other groups, such as The United Way. The 7th Circuit’s decision rightly understands that the First Amendment protects freedom of speech for all people, regardless of their political, moral, or religious views,” said ADF Senior Counsel Theriot, who argued before the 7th Circuit earlier this month. “The city of Fort Wayne’s bus system has a responsibility, like all other government entities, to ensure equal access to community advertising forums that it creates.”
Women’s Health Link is a free referral resource for women seeking physical, emotional, spiritual, or mental health care. In November 2013, Women’s Health Link asked to place advertising cards in the interior of Citilink’s buses that contained a picture of a young woman and the tagline “You’re Not Alone” along with the center’s contact information.
The ad is virtually indistinguishable from a United Way ad and health-related government ads that Citilink approved. ADF attorneys argued that the bus system unconstitutionally prohibited Women’s Health Link’s ad because of its life-affirming ideology and association with a pro-life group.
The 7th Circuit’s decision recognized that Women’s Health Link’s ad “complies fully with the conditions set forth in Citilink’s rules” and found that the ad “is a public service announcement that does not so much as hint at advocating or endorsing any political, moral, or religious position… Yet the district judge granted summary judgment in favor of Citilink. He shouldn’t have.”
Thomas M. Dixon, with Dixon, Wright & Associates, P.C., is local counsel in the case on behalf of Women’s Health Link.