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Appeals Court to Hear Battle Over Law Silencing Pregnancy Centers

by Steven Ertelt | Richmond, VA | LifeNews.com | 12/5/12 7:53 PM

State

An Alliance Defending Freedom attorney will be presenting the case in court against a Maryland county’s law designed to silence pregnancy centers.

The fight will take place at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit in a lawsuit involving a Montgomery County, Md. law that forces pro-life pregnancy counselors to advise women against using their services.

“Pregnancy centers, which offer real help and hope to women, shouldn’t be punished by political allies of abortion sellers,” said Senior Legal Counsel Matt Bowman, co-counsel for the Centro Tepeyac Women’s Center.

Bowman added: “Pro-life centers provide women with the emotional support and practical resources they need, giving them more choices. They should be free to share that message instead of being compelled to provide the government’s preferred message, which sends women elsewhere. The 4th Circuit panel was right to rule against Montgomery County’s law, and we trust the full court will agree.”

Bowman said the Montgomery County law forces “limited-service pregnancy centers” and individuals who have a “primary purpose” of offering information about pregnancy to post signage noting that a medical professional is not on staff and that the county health department advises them to speak with a licensed medical professional. The county intentionally crafted the law so that it doesn’t apply to pro-abortion centers, such as Planned Parenthood, even if counseling is offered by non-medical persons.

In March 2011, a federal district judge issued a preliminary injunction preventing the county from enforcing part of the new requirement, and a three-judge panel of the 4th Circuit later upheld the district court’s decision and further blocked the entire ordinance. In August, the full 4th Circuit decided to review the case. Similar laws around the country have also been declared unconstitutional.

Lead counsel Mark Rienzi will argue before the court Thursday. Rienzi is one of nearly 2,200 allied attorneys with the Alliance Defending Freedom and a law professor at Catholic University of America’s Columbus School of Law. Allied attorneys Bob Michael and John Garza are also serving as co-counsel in the suit.

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.

A similiar Baltimore law has also been the subject of court battles.

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.

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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.