By Dave Andrusko
As our last post of the day on Monday, NRL News Today briefly talked about a very important decision rendered by U.S. District Judge Deborah Chasenow. We had just learned that last Friday Judge Chasenow struck down a blatant abridgement of free speech rights, an ordinance adopted by the Montgomery County (Maryland) City Council that targeted women helping centers, described as “limited-service pregnancy resource centers.“
But I’ve since had the opportunity to read her very thoughtful 54-page decision. Her analysis is a devastating critique of the pro-abortion assault on women-helping centers.
Montgomery County (and the city of Baltimore, for that matter) is only one of the examples of NARAL-inspired attacks on women helping centers. Attempts to stifle their First and Fourteen Amendment rights are still being contested in San Francisco, Austin, as well as Baltimore.
The Montgomery City Council passed Resolution No. 16-1252 on February 1, 2010. Among other things, the resolution required public signage (in English and Spanish) to be prominently displayed in the waiting rooms of certain pregnancy resource centers that stated “the Center does not have a licensed medical professional on staff” and “the Montgomery County Health Officer encourages women who are or may be pregnant to consult with a licensed health care provider.”
What made Judge Chasenow’s decision so important is that point by point, she came to agree (as the plaintiff–Centro Tepeyac–put it) that “The Resolution is a solution in search of a problem, a condition that does not justify compelled speech.” (For us laypeople, it’s crucial to remember that free speech rights are not only about being freedom to speak but also about the “right to refrain from speaking at all”—in this case not being compelled to say what you otherwise would not.)
The nub of the rationale for these ordinances is they are needed to “safeguard the health of pregnant women.” (The irony/hypocrisy of NARAL and its allies using the “health of pregnant women” as a club to bash women-helping centers is too obvious to belabor.)
But as Judge Chasenow wrote
“The mere identification of a valid compelling interest is not sufficient, however: the restriction on speech must also actually further that interest.”
So, how does the ordinance supposedly further that interest? According to the Montgomery City Council (and other like-minded jurisdictions), limited-service pregnancy resource centers (LSPRCs) like Centro Tepeyac might mislead a pregnant woman into mistakenly believing that “an LSPRC is staffed by professionals licensed to give medical advice.” Thus misled, they “may not take important steps, including consulting appropriate medical professionals, which would protect their health or prevent adverse consequences during the pregnancy.”
Click here to read the February/March issue of National Right to Life News,
the “pro-life newspaper of record.”
But you’d think before such an obvious infringement of free speech made its way into law there would be proof that Centro Tepeyac had mislead women into thinking they were medical clinics. Right?
Wrong. The only “evidence” was a 2006 tract produced for pro-abortion Democrat Rep. Henry Waxman (Ca.), the ranking minority member at the time, by the minority staffers on the House Committee on Government Reform, and “volunteers” sent by NARAL already primed.
Judge Chasenow’s careful examination of the evidence—as opposed to pro-abortion speculation and agenda-promoting assertions—produced this litany of counterexamples (the quotes are from Judge Chasenow’s opinion):
- Dr. Ulder Tillman, Montgomery County’s Chief of Public Health since 2003, testified “in that time she has not received one complaint from someone who had sought service at either Centro Tepeyac or Birthright. She had not received any evidence that any actual pregnant women who went to an LSPR delayed seeking medical care.”
- Mariana Vera, Executive Director of Centro Tepeyac, “submitted comments and stated that at least half of the women who come in for a prergancy test are referred to them by the public clinics in Montgomery County.” Judge Chasenow added, “Those referrals continued even after passage of the Resolution.”
- Ms. Jacqueline Stippich, executive director of Shady Grove Pregnancy Center, “stated that they received forty-three percent (43%) of their clients from their advertisements where they are listed under ‘Abortion Alternatives’ in the telephone book. They opened in 1983 and have served over 30,000 women ‘without ever receiving a formal complaint for giving inaccurate information or misrepresenting our services.’ She stated that their website has four disclaimers, including one that states ‘we are not an abortion provider.’”
- “Councilmember Phil Andrews opposed the Resolution, finding that it is unnecessary as he had not received a single complaint from anyone who went to an LSPRC in his eleven years as a Councilmember.”
You get the point. Nobody—more specifically, no “actual pregnant women”—has complained about Centro Tepeyac or Birthright. The county keeps sending pregnant women there, which would be hard to square if they were actually misleading women and/or endangering their health.
One other quick thought. The Montgomery City Council (as have, I believe, all the jurisdictions that have tried to drive women-helping centers out of business) offered an incredibly tortuous interpretation of what LSPRC’s are doing so as to turn their speech into “commercial speech.” This does not receive the kind of heightened First Amendment protections afforded to non-commercial speech.
Judge Chasenow did an elaborate search, showing why LSPRC’s speech could not remotely be construed as commercial speech. But the bottom line is the most obvious explanation: they don’t charge anything! Their services are free!
Will this stop NARAL from going after women-helping centers? Of course not. They are NARAL’s competition and every baby they save is one that Planned Parenthood loses.
But everyone who is defending LSPRCs should read Judge Chasenow’s brilliantly persuasive opinion. For clarity, content, and careful reasoning, it would be difficult to surpass.