January 31, 2011 — U.S. District Judge Marvin Garbis has ruled that a Baltimore ordinance (FID 09-0406) requiring crisis pregnancy centers to post signs saying they do not provide abortions or birth control violates the Freedom of Speech Clause of the Constitution and cannot be enforced, the AP/Washington Times reports. The ordinance took effect last year, but had not been enforced because of the court proceedings (AP/Washington Times, 1/28). It requires "limited-service pregnancy centers" to post signs in English and Spanish stating what services they provide -- including maternity and infant supplies, prenatal care and adoption referrals -- and what they do not offer, such as abortion care. Centers that fail to comply within 10 days of being cited by city inspectors could be fined $150 per day (Women's Health Policy Report, 8/5/10).
The lawsuit was filed by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Baltimore and the Greater Baltimore Center for Pregnancy Concerns, which receives rent-free space from the archdiocese (AP/Washington Times, 1/28). Garbis said, "Whether a provider of pregnancy-related services is 'pro-life' or 'pro-choice,' it is for the provider -- not the government -- to decide when and how to discuss abortion and birth-control method. The government cannot, consistent with the First Amendment, require a 'pro-life' pregnancy-related service center to post a sign."
Archbishop Edwin O'Brien said that Garbis' ruling would allow "the important and compassionate work of these pro-life pregnancy centers to continue without interference from Baltimore City," adding that "the ruling also upholds the constitutional rights under the First Amendment that protect private citizens who work and volunteer in pregnancy centers from having to convey a government-mandated message."
The Center for Reproductive Rights and the City of Baltimore are expected to appeal the ruling (Hare, Baltimore Sun, 1/29).
Debra Ness, publisher & president, National Partnership
Andrea Friedman, associate editor & director of reproductive health programs, National Partnership
Marya Torrez, associate editor & senior reproductive health policy counsel, National Partnership
Melissa Safford, associate editor & policy advocate for reproductive health, National Partnership
Perry Sacks, assistant editor & health program associate, National Partnership
Cindy Romero, assistant editor & communications assistant, National Partnership
Justyn Ware, editor
Amanda Wolfe, editor-in-chief
Heather Drost, Hanna Jaquith, Marcelle Maginnis, Ashley Marchand and Michelle Stuckey, staff writers
Tucker Ball, director of new media, National Partnership