So much for Free Speech. The City Council of Baltimore is currently entangled in litigation as it attempts to defend an ordinance forcing Pregnancy Resource Centers (PRCs) to speak in favor of abortion.
Such ordinances represent an agenda by the abortion industry to compel its “competition” in the pro-life community to advertise an abortion message. Smearing PRCs with false claims about the nature and accuracy of the information available at these centers, the abortion industry is pushing for the passage of these ordinances across the nation, requiring signs and pro-abortion speech inside the walls of PRCs.
Clearly, the abortion industry feels threatened by the success of PRCs. After all, every time an abortion-minded woman changes her mind and carries her child to term, the abortion industry loses money and loses the hearts of minds of more Americans.
Let’s consider some numbers to put this in perspective. In 2004, Focus on the Family (Focus) initiated a program to help convert PRCs into medical clinics that offer ultrasound – a window into the womb. Focus estimates that at least 133,000 babies have been saved since that time. Planned Parenthood estimates that an abortion costs between $300 and $950 in the first trimester. Assuming Focus’ estimate is correct and assuming even the lowest cost, Focus’ success represents a loss of almost 40 million dollars for the abortion industry.
And for an industry more concerned with profit than with women’s health, this number is a threat—hence the effort to thwart the good works of PRCs through draconian regulation.
Of course, the Baltimore ordinance is a clear infringement on the constitutionally-guaranteed free speech rights of PRCs and on their mission. A local Maryland PRC, the Greater Baltimore Center for Pregnancy Concerns, filed suit, and a federal district court struck down the ordinance as unconstitutional. The City of Baltimore appealed, and a Fourth Circuit panel initially affirmed the lower court’s decision. However, the City asked for the entire Fourth Circuit to reconsider the appeal—resulting in the Fourth Circuit’s recent decision to reverse the lower court based on a perceived procedural flaw in the court below.
The Fourth Circuit did not rule on the merits—so the lower court could still determine that the ordinance unconstitutionally interferes with the First Amendment rights of PRCs—but it did instruct the lower federal court to allow the City to scrutinize PRCs through depositions and other legal “discovery” (investigation processes) to get a better idea of whether the PRCs are entitled to heightened First Amendment protection.
This investigation, however, will only reveal that PRCs provide professional and compassionate care to their clients—both women and men who seek information about sexually transmitted diseases, pregnancy, abortion, and parenting.
National PRC umbrella organizations like Care Net, Heartbeat International, the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates, and others require compliance with comprehensive standards of care. In order for local PRCs to affiliate with these organizations, PRCs must abide by stringent guidelines in order to maintain affiliation. For example, PRCs must abide by a detailed ethical code of practice, entitled the “Commitment of Care and Competence,” which includes the following:
- Clients are treated with kindness, compassion, and in a caring manner.
- Clients always receive honest and open answers.
- Client information is held in strict and absolute confidence.
- Clients receive accurate information about pregnancy, fetal development, lifestyle issues, and related concerns.
- All advertising and communication are truthful and honest and accurately describe the services offered.
- A safe environment is provided through screening all volunteers and staff who interact with clients.
- Medical services are provided in accordance with all applicable laws, and in accordance with pertinent medical standards, under the supervision and direction of a licensed physician.
The national organizations also provide hundreds of detailed forms for affiliates’ daily interactions with clients, staff, and volunteers, including the following: client appointment forms (reminding volunteers to explain that the first appointment lasts approximately 45 minutes); client “request for services” forms (alerting clients to the services provided, that volunteers provide peer counseling but not professional counseling, and that the PRC does not perform nor refer for abortion); client intake sheets (asking clients whether they may be contacted by the PRC); and client comment surveys.
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But despite—or because of—the high ethical standards of PRCs, these centers have come under attack from pro-abortion forces.
These attacks will ultimately fail, and women will continue to benefit from the compassion and sound advice provided by PRCs. Forcing people to say something doesn’t make it true.
AUL has filed an amicus brief twice in the Greater Baltimore case on behalf of Care Net, Heartbeat International, National Institute of Family and Life Advocates, and local PRCs.