By Dave Andrusko
Lost in the much-deserved attention paid to the Supreme Court’s decision upholding virtually all of ObamaCare is that the day before, a three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned ordinances passed by the Montgomery County Council and the Baltimore City Council in 2010 attacking the free speech rights of pregnancy centers.
NRL News Today has written extensively about both cases (see, for example, www.nationalrighttolifenews.org/news/2011/06/cpcs-fighting-back/#more-2404).
The Montgomery County ordinances required what were described as “limited service pregnancy centers” to post notices that they had no licensed medical staff and advising women to find “a licensed health care provider.”
Writing for himself and Judge G. Steven Agee in the Montgomery County case, Judge Paul V. Niemeyer said “The government-mandated statement … suggests to potential clients that the center is not to be trusted and that a pregnancy center’s services, like religious counseling or job placement assistance, will usually be inferior to those offered by medical professionals.” He added that while the county can express its views that a pregnant woman should seek medical attention, it cannot force others to express that view.
The county, Niemeyer wrote, “is entitled to believe that pregnancy is first and foremost a medical condition, but it may not compel unwilling speakers to express that view.” However, he said pregnancy centers that did not provide or refer for abortions were being “singled out for disfavored treatment.”
If Montgomery County “wishes ‘to encourage women who are or may be pregnant to consult with a licensed health care provider,’ it must, at a minimum, first do so using its own voice,” Niemeyer wrote in his majority opinion.
The Montgomery County case had been brought by Centro Tepeyac Women’s Center which is located in Silver Spring, Md.“The Baltimore lawsuit was filed by the Greater Baltimore Center for Pregnancy Concerns, St. Brigid Parish in Baltimore, where the center is located, and Archbishop (now Cardinal) Edwin F. O’Brien, Lori’s predecessor as archbishop of Baltimore,” according to the Catholic News Agency.
The Baltimore City Council ordinance was even more odious. Its law required pregnancy centers to display signs stating they do not offer abortions or birth control. The Council offered a rationale favored by NARAL Pro-Choice America which is on a campaign to harass women-helping centers: that such centers had provided misleading information and the Council had a vested interest in protecting the public health by ensuring honest advertising of services.
In upholding a lower court decision, Judge Niemeyer made short work of this.
“Here, the record establishes, at most, only isolated instances of misconduct by pregnancy centers generally, and, as the City concedes, none by the [Greater Baltimore Center for Pregnancy Concerns] itself. Indeed, the record contains no evidence that any woman has been misled into believing that any pregnancy center subject to Ordinance 09-252 was a medical clinic or that a woman in Baltimore delayed seeking medical services because of such a misconception. The City instead cites allegations of deceptive practices occurring in other locations or second-hand reports of ‘stories about harassment.’”
The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Baltimore praised the decision.
“At a time when religious freedom is being challenged on many fronts, this ruling represents a major victory for the First Amendment and for those people who seek to live their lives and their faith according to it,” said Archbishop William E. Lori, who is in Rome, in a statement. “I applaud the Court for recognizing that these centers were being targeted for their pro-life views and for sending a strong message to the rest of the nation that these kinds of onerous, discriminatory laws have no place in a nation founded on freedom.”
According to newspaper accounts, Officials in both Montgomery County and Baltimore City are considering whether to appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.
There are other challenges to similar laws working their way through the legal pipeline. One is from Austin, Texas, another from New York City, and a third from San Francisco.
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