Total victory against Md. County’s ‘forced speech’ law for pregnancy centers
County opts not to appeal after federal judge finds ‘lack of any evidence’ for government’s claims
Editor’s note. This update comes from Alliance Defending Freedom.
GREENBELT, Md. — A Maryland county has decided not to appeal a March federal court ruling that struck down the entirety of a law that forced pro-life pregnancy care centers to advise women against using their services. The county’s decision to let a federal court order against the law stand without further challenge means the lawsuit is the first among many similar cases around the nation to reach completion.
The outcome of the case in favor of Centro Tepeyac, a Montgomery County pregnancy care center represented by Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys and allied attorneys, is a positive sign for lawsuits challenging similar ordinances. Other cases are currently taking place in Baltimore, New York City, San Francisco, and Austin, Texas.
“Pro-life pregnancy centers offer real help that many women want. The government cannot stifle these centers just because abortionists fear their hopeful message,” said lead counsel Mark Rienzi, one of more than 2,300 allied attorneys with ADF and a law professor at Catholic University of America’s Columbus School of Law. “Four years of litigation made it clear that the government had no basis for interfering with Centro Tepeyac’s loving efforts to help women.”
“The court in this case rightly found no justification for the government to force pro-life centers to speak a message designed to drive women away,” said ADF Senior Legal Counsel Matt Bowman, co-counsel in the case. “No government, in a quest to achieve a political goal, should ever resort to coercing or shutting down someone else’s speech in violation of the First Amendment.”
The Montgomery County law forced “limited-service pregnancy centers” and individuals who have a “primary purpose” of offering information about pregnancy to post signage noting that a medical professional is not on staff and that the county health department advises them to speak with a licensed medical professional. The county intentionally crafted the law so that it doesn’t apply to pro-abortion centers, such as Planned Parenthood, even if counseling is offered there by non-medical persons.
The opinion that Judge Deborah K. Chasanow of the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland issued in Centro Tepeyac v. Montgomery County explained that “the critical flaw for the County is the lack of any evidence that the practices of [the pregnancy care centers] are causing pregnant women to be misinformed which is negatively affecting their health.” She added that “when core First Amendment interests are implicated, mere intuition [of a problem] is not sufficient. Yet that is all the County has brought forth: intuition and suppositions.”
The opinion further explained that the only people who alleged a “misinformation problem” on the part of pregnancy care centers “were universally volunteers from a pro-choice organization sent to investigate [their] practices.” Despite those allegations, “there is no evidence that those women failed to get the medical services and counseling they desired or that the time spent at the [centers] was to the detriment of their health,” the court concluded.
ADF-allied attorneys Bob Michael, John Garza, and Professor Bob Destro of Catholic University of America’s Columbus School of Law also served as co-counsel in the suit.