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Fourth Circuit Strikes Down Maryland Rules on Crisis Pregnancy Center Signs (UPDATED)

Appeals court says Baltimore and Montgomery County cannot force centers to advertise their lack of abortion or birth control services.

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals struck down a 2009 Baltimore ordinance yesterday that required "limited-service pregnancy centers" to post signs announcing they do not provide or make referrals for abortion or birth control services. The 2-1 ruling, which also struck down a similar ordinance in Maryland's Montgomery County, comes on the heels of a flood of pro-life legislation that hit the courts last year.

In the majority opinion, judges Paul Niemeyer and G. Steven Agee wrote: "In compelling that speech, the Pregnancy Center is, in this case, required to participate in the city's effort to tell pregnant women that abortions are available elsewhere as a morally acceptable alternative, contrary to the moral and religious beliefs of the Pregnancy Center."

Dissenting judge Robert King called the majority's decision "indefensible," and argued there was "ample evidence that the centers engage in 'deceptive practices' that create health risks for the women who seek help from them."

CT has reported how disclosing information to pregnant women—a long-established pro-life legal strategy—is now cutting both ways as a number of cities have passed laws similar to the Baltimore ordinance. San Francisco requires such disclosures by crisis pregnancy centers. A Texas federal court will decide this summer whether an Austin ordinance can stand. New York City passed such an ordinance but a federal judge stopped it for being "overly broad."

Baltimore archdiocesan spokesman Sean Caine told CT that the issue for conservative clinics is less about disclosure, and more about governmental control.

"They're not against disclosure; they're against the government compelling their speech," Caine said. "What they reject is being told by the government that we have to discuss, through a sign, abortion."

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