FORT WAYNE – Women's Health Link wants to put an ad inside a Citilink bus. But when the nonprofit "life-affirming" health referral organization tried twice last fall, it was told its ads weren't going to be allowed because there was controversial material on the organization's website and that the group was affiliated with Allen County Right to Life.
According to attorneys with the Alliance Defending Freedom who represent Women's Health Link, Fort Wayne Public Transportation Corp., which operates Citilink, violated the organization's constitutional rights to free speech and free association.
Alliance Defending Freedom describes itself as an "alliance-building, non-profit legal organization that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith."
In a federal lawsuit filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Fort Wayne, Women's Health Link is asking a judge to force Citilink to allow the organization to buy its advertisement and put it inside the buses.
According to its website, Women's Health Link opened in 2013 after elected officials, health professionals and citizens in the Fort Wayne area determined that women needed help navigating the often-complicated health care process.
Its mission, according to court documents, is to provide women with "unplanned and crisis pregnancies life-affirming counseling and referring them to health-care-related services that provide alternatives to abortion."
The ad that Women's Health Link wanted to buy was a simple one, according to court documents. The words "You are not alone" and "Free resources for women seeking health care" are placed on either side of the smiling face of a young woman, with the organization's website and telephone number on a banner below.
The 11-by 17-inch ad would be placed inside the buses and would cost $525 for three months, according to the lawsuit.
Citilink officials rejected the proposed ad on two occasions, saying their attorneys believed the organization's website dealt with "controversial issues," according to court documents.
Citilink officials then said the ads were inherently noncommercial in nature because they advertised services which were free. Women's Health Link attorneys argue that is no different than a number of other public service announcements and noncommercial advertisements, according to court documents.
Women's Health Link argues that the ad ban violates its constitutional rights to free expression, free association, due process and equal protection under the law.
It seeks preliminary and permanent injunctions and a judgment that Citilink's policies and procedures are unconstitutional.
Ken Housden, general manager of Citilink, declined to comment on the lawsuit until he had a chance to review it with attorneys and had not yet been served a copy of the 45-page lawsuit.