Judge Rules Baltimore Can’t Force Pregnancy Centers to Promote Abortions

State   |   Micaiah Bilger   |   Oct 10, 2016   |   5:18PM   |   Baltimore, MD

A federal judge sided with a pro-life pregnancy center last week in ruling that a 2009 Baltimore ordinance violated the group’s its freedom of speech.

The city ordinance forced pregnancy resource centers to post a disclaimer stating that they will not refer women for abortions, according to the Associated Press. The Greater Baltimore Center for Pregnancy Concerns challenged the ordinance, and last week, Senior U.S. District Court Judge Marvin J. Garbis agreed that it did violate the pro-life organization’s freedoms.

“The Disclaimer as mandated forces pregnancy centers to begin their conversations with a stark government disclaimer, divorced from the support offered by the Center, and suggesting that abortion is available elsewhere and might be considered a good option by pregnant women — a message that the Center expressly finds morally offensive and would not otherwise provide,” Garbis wrote in his ruling issued Oct. 4.

Matt Bowman, senior counsel at Alliance Defending Freedom, which represented the pregnancy center, said the ruling is good news for pregnancy centers across the country.

“No American should be forced to promote activities or speak messages that violate their deepest convictions, as Baltimore’s ordinance required,” Bowman said. “That law is very similar to ones in other places of the country, such as California and Illinois, where ADF is currently seeking to protect the constitutionally protected freedoms of other pregnancy resource centers that are being threatened by the government.

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“The court’s decision in this case will provide persuasive precedent to defend free speech there and in other states. We commend allied attorney Mark Rienzi and the rest of the pregnancy centers’ legal team for this important First Amendment victory,” Bowman continued.

Here’s more from the Baltimore Sun:

The city could ask the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to review the case. Anthony McCarthy, a spokesman for Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, said “the city is currently exploring all legal options to ensure that women obtain access to the time-sensitive reproductive health services they seek.”

Amber Banks, a spokeswoman for NARAL Pro-Choice Maryland, said her organization will keep battling against the pregnancy centers, which she said spread falsehoods about the risks and long-term consequences of abortion. …

Even though city officials said the law was designed to protect women from false advertising, Garbis wrote that it was drafted so broadly that a center “that does no advertising would nonetheless be swept up in the City’s regulatory fervor, leaving just another free speech casualty.”

Garbis wrote that at least in the case of the Center for Pregnancy Concerns, the city could not prove that any women had been harmed by going there or that the law was written carefully enough to protect women from false advertising.

NARAL, a radical pro-abortion organization, has been lobbying for these laws and ordinances. Right now in California, a NARAL-backed pro-abortion law is forcing pregnancy centers to choose between advertising free and low-cost abortions through the state or facing heavy fines if they do not comply.

The California pregnancy centers are seeking relief through lawsuits, but none has come thus far. Last December, two judges refused to temporarily block the pro-abortion law from taking effect, LifeNews reported.

In August, the Los Angeles Times reported city lawyers threatened to take legal action against the Pregnancy Counseling Center in Mission Hills after it refused to follow the pro-abortion law. City attorney Mike Feuer took initial steps to file a lawsuit against the pro-life center after it missed an Aug. 14 deadline to correct violations, according to the report.

The pro-life non-profit eventually submitted to the pro-abortion law. Failure to do so could have subjected the pregnancy center to huge penalties of $2,500 per day, the newspaper reported.