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Maryland Pregnancy Centers Win Court Victory for Free Speech

by Steven Ertelt | Baltimore, MD | LifeNews.com | 7/4/12 3:04 PM

State

Maryland pregnancy centers that had been fighting laws in Baltimore and Montgomery County, Maryland that force pregnancy resource centers to post signs discouraging women from using their services won a huge victory in court last week. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit affirmed Wednesday that such laws are unconstitutional.

Alliance Defense Fund attorneys represent a pregnancy resource center in the Montgomery County case and filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case involving the Baltimore law.

“Pregnancy centers offer real help and hope to women. They should be free to share that message instead of being compelled to provide the government’s preferred message, which sends women elsewhere,” said ADF Legal Counsel Matt Bowman. “Pregnancy centers provide women with the emotional support and practical resources they need, giving them more choices. They should not be made to speak negatively about the important services they provide. The 4th Circuit was right to rule against that in both of these cases.”

In Centro Tepeyac v. Montgomery County, the court upheld a district court’s decision that struck down most of the county’s ordinance and reversed the district court on the one section of the ordinance that it didn’t strike down, concluding that “it still amounts to an impermissible government control of speech.”

Mark Rienzi, an ADF-allied attorney and a law professor at Catholic University of America’s Columbus School of Law, argued before the court as lead counsel for Centro Tepeyac in March. Bowman served as co-counsel in the Montgomery County lawsuit as did attorneys Bob Michael and John Garza, two of more than 2,100 attorneys in the ADF alliance.

ADF attorneys filed suit against the county on behalf of Centro Tepeyac in May 2010. The suit concerned a new law that made “limited-service pregnancy centers” and individuals who have a “primary purpose” of offering information about pregnancy face steep fines if they do not post signs saying the county believes women should see a health care professional.

In 2011 in Greater Baltimore Center for Pregnancy Concerns v. Mayor and City Council of Baltimore, ADF together with the Jubilee Campaign’s Law of Life Project filed a friend-of-the-court brief with the 4th Circuit on behalf of three pro-life medical associations concerned about Baltimore’s law, which was similar to Montgomery County’s. ADF-allied attorney law professors with approximately 20 of their colleagues also filed a brief in opposition to the law.

In January 2011, a federal judge struck down the Baltimore law that was the subject of a lawsuit brought by the Archdiocese of Baltimore because it unfairly attacks pregnancy centers that provide women with abortion alternatives.

The judge granted summary judgment finding the anti-pregnancy center law is viewpoint-based and impossible to render constitutional under the First Amendment. He dismissed without prejudice all other claims and found a couple of the plaintiffs lacked standing (including the Archbishop and the Catholic church that provides space for one of the pregnancy centers that filed suit) but the ruling is viewed as a substantial victory by pro-life advocates.

Early in March 2011, a federal judge struck down most of the law Montgomery County, Maryland officials passed that targets pregnancy centers and requires them to post signs that may turn potential clients away.

ADF attorneys have filed two additional lawsuits involving such laws: one against New York City and the other against Austin, Texas. A federal court halted New York City’s law in July of last year.

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In the New York case, last year, a federal judge issued a preliminary injunction blocking the enactment of the measure abrogating the First Amendment rights of the crisis pregnancy centers. The American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), which filed a federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the new ordinance, today filed its brief at an appeals court in response to New York City’s appeal of the preliminary injunction.

The New York City ordinance requires crisis pregnancy centers to post signs in the lobbies of their counseling centers, add extensive additional written language to their advertising materials, and to provide oral statements during both “in person” and telephonic conversations regarding the services offered by crisis pregnancy centers. The requirements apply only to crisis pregnancy centers and not to abortion businesses like Planned Parenthood.

Pregnancy centers in Austin, Texas are fighting a law there as well.