Baltimore agrees to pay $1.1 million to pregnancy help center targeted by city ordinance

By Dave Andrusko

One of the very rarely talked about after-effects of pro-life organizations going to court to protect their rights is that even when they win, they typically still have accrued a mountain of legal bills.

That is why a vote Wednesday by the Baltimore Board of Estimates “to pay $1.1 million to cover the legal fees of the Greater Baltimore Center for Pregnancy Concerns,” as Talia Richman of the Baltimore Sun reported, is so important.

Pro-lifers who read NRL News Today are aware of the favorable outcome in June in the case of NIFLA v. Becerra. The suit, brought by the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates, challenged a California law requiring licensed pregnancy resource centers to disclose where women could receive free or low-cost abortions, and requiring unlicensed centers to insert state-dictated material in their advertising, thus violating the First Amendment rights of all pregnancy resource centers in the state.

In a 5-4 ruling, the Supreme Court agreed that the so-called Reproductive Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care, and Transparency Act (FACT Act) was, in the words of now retired Justice Anthony Kennedy in his concurrence, “a paradigmatic example of the serious threat presented when government seeks to impose its own message in the place of individual speech, thought, and expression.”

But what about similar abridgement of the First Amendment rights of other pregnancy help centers?

The Greater Baltimore Center for Pregnancy Concerns sued the city after it passed a law in 2009 requiring “pregnancy clinics that don’t provide abortions to post signs in their waiting rooms to disclose that information,” according to Richmond.

As NRL News Today reported the case was litigated for almost a decade until last January when the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of The Greater Baltimore Center for Pregnancy Concerns. The city of Baltimore appealed to the High Court but in light of its NIFLA v. Becerra decision, the Supreme Court declined to review the decision written by Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson III.

Among the five-member board, City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young cast the lone vote against the payout. According to Richmond, “City documents say the payout ‘reflects a considerable discount in compromise of plaintiff’s fee claim.’ It was not immediately clear how much the legal fees were.”

For his part, Thomas Schetelich, chairman of the pregnancy center’s board of directors, told Richmond he was sorry the city continued to appeal the case.

“I am enormously disappointed that there would be this level of litigation over what we thought was a very clear violation of the First Amendment,” he said. “We have no joy that we’ve won this case. We have no joy that we had to litigate this for nine years.”