Baltimore to Appeal Decision Supporting Pregnancy Centers

State   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jan 31, 2011   |   5:48PM   |   Baltimore, MD

The city of Baltimore and officials with the pro-abortion legal group Center for Reproductive Rights said over the weekend they plan to appeal a judge’s decision striking down a law attacking pregnancy centers operating in the city.

A federal judge has struck down a 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.

A non-compliant pregnancy center may also be subject to a criminal misdemeanor charge under the law and, if convicted, the pregnancy center is subject to a fine of $200, plus $50 for each day the offense continues. The non-payment of fines could result in the pregnancy center being held in contempt of court.

Judge Garbis in Baltimore granted summary judgment finding the anti-pregnancy center law is viewpoint-based and impermissible to render constitution 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.

Garbis is expected to enter a permanent injunction today against the law, which is similar to ones proposed in Washington state and New York City that pro-life advocates have been working overtime to oppose.

Matt Bowman of the Alliance Defense Fund says Judge Garbis’ ruling was a correct one.

“The judge ruled that the law’s attempt to burden speech unconstitutionally discriminated against noncommercial, unlicensed speech on the explicit basis that it came from a perspective disfavoring abortion,” he said, calling it a “monumental decision protecting free speech and women’s health.”

Bowman added in a post at Catholic Vote:

In stark contrast to the law-breaking, butchering abortion industry, pro-life pregnancy centers have a stellar record of integrity and their opponents can cite no examples of abuse or so-called “lying.”  To the abortion industry, saying that abortion is bad is defined as a lie that they are attempting to hamper with legal restrictions.

The judge notes in the decision that the law burdens all pro-life centers, not just ones that supposedly engage in deception: ”the Ordinance does not provide a ‘carve-out’ provision for those limited-service pregnancy centers which do not engage in any deceptive practices.”  There’s a good reason why the law doesn’t limit its application to false advertising:  NO PRO-LIFE CENTERS ENGAGE IN FALSE ADVERTISING, ergo such a law wouldn’t hurt pro-life centers.  That’s why the abortion industry regulates people solely on the basis that they are pro-life, not on the basis that they have done anything wrong.

And whereas informed consent for abortion laws rightly regulate information given by a licensed doctor prior to an abortion, laws against pro-life pregnancy centers attack private unlicensed citizen speech solely because they speak on the issue of pregnancy from the pro-life perspective.  There’s no justification to pass laws against pure, non-commercial speech on an important topic related to public health.

This is a huge win for the health of women and a defeat of the profiteering abortion industry that lobbies to pass laws like this in order to restrict women’s choices in obtaining free abortion alternatives.  A similar case is pending in another Maryland county, and the abortion industry has been lobbying for similar laws attacking pro-life centers in New York and the state of Washington.

Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, the former city council president who is now the mayor, sponsored the measure that the city council approved on a 12-3 vote. The council defeated an amendment to the bill that would have required abortion businesses to post a similar sign confirming they do not provide abortion alternatives.

“Under the Ordinance, such an organization – referred to as a “limited-service pregnancy center” – must post a conspicuous sign in its waiting room notifying its
clients that the center “does not provide or make referral for abortion or birth-control services,’” the judge wrote. “As discussed herein, the Court holds that the Ordinance violates the Freedom of Speech Clause of Article I of the Constitution of the United States and is unenforceable.”

“Whether a provider of pregnancy-related services is “pro-life” or “prochoice,” it is for the provider – not the Government – to decide when and how to discuss abortion and birth-control methods. The Government cannot, consistent with the First Amendment, require a “pro-life” pregnancy-related service center to post a sign as would be required by the Ordinance,” Judge Garbis added.