A Maryland county paid $375,000 in attorneys’ fees, costs, and nominal damages this week after a court battle won by a pro-life center represented by Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys and allied attorneys. In March, a federal court issued a ruling striking down the entirety of a Montgomery County law that forced pro-life pregnancy counselors to advise women against using their services.
The ruling and settlement are positive signs in the nationwide battle against such ordinances. Other lawsuits are pending in Baltimore, New York City, San Francisco, and Austin, Texas.
“Pro-life pregnancy centers, which offer real help and hope to women, shouldn’t be punished by political allies of the abortion industry,” said ADF Senior Legal Counsel Matt Bowman, co-counsel in the case. “No government, in a quest to achieve a political goal, should ever resort to coercing or shutting down someone else’s speech in violation of the First Amendment. We hope that this settlement will cause other governments to reconsider any efforts to enforce similar laws.”
“The government cannot stifle pro-life centers just because abortionists fear their hopeful message,” said lead counsel Mark Rienzi, one of more than 2,400 ADF-allied attorneys and a law professor at Catholic University of America’s Columbus School of Law. “Four years of litigation made it clear that the government had no basis for interfering with Centro Tepeyac’s loving efforts to help women.”
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The Montgomery County law forced “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 abortion centers, such as Planned Parenthood, even if counseling is offered there by non-medical persons.
The opinion of the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland issued in Centro Tepeyac v. Montgomery County explained that “the critical flaw for the County is the lack of any evidence that the practices of [the pregnancy care centers] are causing pregnant women to be misinformed which is negatively affecting their health,” adding that “when core First Amendment interests are implicated, mere intuition [of a problem] is not sufficient. Yet that is all the County has brought forth: intuition and suppositions.”
ADF-allied attorneys Bob Michael, Bob Destro, and John Garza also served as co-counsel in the suit.