Pro-Life Group Takes on Baltimore Law Hitting Pregnancy Centers

State   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jun 7, 2011   |   11:33AM   |   Baltimore, MD

A leading pro-life organization has filed legal papers defending a judge’s decision to strike down a Baltimore, Maryland ordinance that attacks pregnancy centers providing abortion alternatives to women.

In January, a federal judge struck down a Baltimore law that was the subject of a lawsuit brought by the Archdiocese of Baltimore because it unfairly attacks pregnancy centers. Under the law, 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 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).

The city of Baltimore and officials with the pro-abortion legal group Center for Reproductive Rights appealed the judge’s decision.

Today, Americans United for Life will file an amicus curiae brief on behalf of Care Net, Heartbeat International, the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates, and pregnancy care centers in Maryland, whose free speech rights it says “are being trampled by the abortion lobby through its attempt to brand pregnancy care centers in a “Scarlet Letter” Campaign.”

“Pro-life volunteers do not deserve to be branded and their pregnancy care centers marked with the messages of the abortion industry,” said AUL’s president Charmaine Yoest.

“The “Scarlet Letter” campaign is a recent push by the abortion lobby to force its competition in the pro-life community to push an abortion message in pregnancy care centers by requiring signs about abortion to be posted,” she explained. “The abortion industry worked for the passage of multiple ordinances across the country to force the abortion messages. Several other lawsuits involving similar ordinances are moving through the courts. In the case involving Baltimore, the lower court has already ruled the forced abortion messages to be an unconstitutional violation of the free speech rights of pro-life Americans, and the case is being closely watched.”

“The ordinance in the Baltimore case tries to undermine the work of pregnancy care centers by forcing the posting of messages about abortions in the facilities,” Yoest said. “Apparently, the abortion lobby feels threatened by the loving care available to mothers in pregnancy care centers, and is trying to brand the centers with a ‘Scarlet Letter,’ disparaging the message of loving alternatives to abortion.”

AUL’s brief, which is available here, will be filed today in the Fourth Circuit case Greater Baltimore Center for Pregnancy Concerns v. Mayor and City Council of Baltimore.

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.”

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.