Baltimore’s mandatory pregnancy center signs are unconstitutional, federal judge rules

ppedwinobriencna020211 Archbishop Edwin F. O'Brien

A federal judge in Maryland has struck down a law which required pro-life pregnancy centers to post announcements that they do not refer clients for abortions or birth control. The Archbishop of Baltimore declared the ruling “a clear victory.”

Under the regulation, if inspectors found no visible announcement in English and Spanish at a center then it would have 10 days to post a notice or face a $150 fine. The pregnancy centers of Baltimore receive significant support from the Archdiocese of Baltimore, which also backed the suit to overturn the law.

U.S. District Judge Marvin J. Garbis ruled on Jan. 28 that the law is “unenforceable.” He said it is for the provider, and 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."

He explained that the Constitution bars “compelled speech,” including mandates for introducing the subjects of abortion and birth-control.

The judge said it was “revealing” that the defendants claimed the ordinance mitigated the “harm” caused by the “propaganda” of pregnancy centers concerning abortion and contraception.

“Such descriptions can only support the conclusion that defendants enacted the ordinance out of disagreement with plaintiffs' viewpoint on abortion and birth-control.”

St. Brigid’s Roman Catholic Church and the Greater Baltimore Center for Pregnancy Concerns, which occupies space rent-free from St. Brigid’s, were parties to the lawsuit with Archbishop Edwin F. O’Brien of Baltimore. However, both the archbishop and the church were dismissed as parties to the suit because they lacked standing.

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake sponsored the legislation when she was City Council president.

Opponents of the law were concerned that the local regulation was part of a budding national strategy to burden pro-life centers and to discourage pregnant women in need from keeping their babies.

On Jan. 28 Archbishop O’Brien praised the ruling as a “clear victory” both for pregnant women in need of help and for First Amendment principles.

He cited his homily at his October 2007 Mass of Installation in which he told the Church and the citizens of Maryland that abortion “need not be an ‘answer’ in this archdiocese.”

He asked women in crisis pregnancies to let Catholics “help them affirm life.” Crisis pregnancy centers provide an “integral part” of the response to pregnant women in need, he added.

“In Baltimore, these centers assist thousands of women every year who are trying to embrace the gift of life in their unborn children,” he commented. “And this ruling allows the important and compassionate work of these pro-life pregnancy centers to continue without interference from Baltimore City which sought to target these.”

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