Opposition mounts against Baltimore ordinance that targets pregnancy care centers

ADF, allies representing doctors, law profs file briefs against problematic law after city appeals federal court’s decision to strike it down
Wednesday, June 08, 2011

ADF attorney sound bites:  Matt Bowman #1  |  Matt Bowman #2

RICHMOND, Va. — A beleaguered Baltimore, Md., law requiring pregnancy resource centers to post signs that deter women from using their services received additional opposition Tuesday from three medical associations and numerous law professors. In January, a federal court found the ordinance unconstitutional, but the city appealed the decision.

The Alliance Defense Fund together with the Jubilee Campaign’s Law of Life Project filed a friend-of-the-court brief with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit on behalf of three pro-life medical associations. In addition, ADF-allied attorney law professors with approximately 20 of their colleagues also filed a brief in opposition to the Baltimore law.

“Pregnancy centers, which offer real help and hope to women, shouldn’t be punished by political allies of the abortion industry,” said ADF Legal Counsel Matt Bowman. “As the district court ruled, the government cannot create special speech rules for people who want to talk about pregnancy choices. And it also cannot target pro-life centers for special sign requirements and fines while leaving speech by abortion clinics unregulated.”

The ordinance at issue in Greater Baltimore Center for Pregnancy Concerns v. Mayor and City Council of Baltimore forces pro-life centers to post signs on their doors stating that they don’t provide abortions or birth control referrals.  The center, which filed suit in March of last year, faced a $150 fine per day for not posting the signs.  The city places no sign requirements on Planned Parenthood and other abortion facilities regarding services they do not offer. In January, a federal court struck down the law, rejecting arguments by the city that the law is needed to stop the centers from “misleading” women.

The law is one of several being challenged in court around the country. ADF attorneys secured an initial injunction against an ordinance in Montgomery County, Md., and recently filed suit against an ordinance in New York City.

The brief filed by the pro-life medical associations against the Baltimore law demonstrates that pro-life centers do not mislead women when they tell them that abortion is harmful to them in various ways. Many states actually mandate that women be given such information before an abortion, and medical literature on both sides of the issue provide significant evidence of harms that abortion can cause women. ADF filed the brief together with Samuel B. Casey, managing director of the Jubilee Campaign’s Law of Life Project.

The law professors’ brief shows that, under U.S. Supreme Court case law, pro-life pregnancy centers which offer free services are clearly not “commercial” speakers and, therefore, the government cannot force them to disclose messages as if they were selling a product. John Eastman, one of more than 2,000 attorneys in the ADF alliance and dean of the Chapman University School of Law, filed the brief with other attorneys on behalf of law professors from around the country.

ADF is a legal alliance of Christian attorneys and like-minded organizations defending the right of people to freely live out their faith. Launched in 1994, ADF employs a unique combination of strategy, training, funding, and litigation to protect and preserve religious liberty, the sanctity of life, marriage, and the family.