March 30, 2010 — The Archdiocese of Baltimore on Monday filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court that seeks to block an ordinance requiring crisis pregnancy centers to post signs stating they do not provide abortion services and information, the AP/San Francisco Examiner reports. The suit names as defendants the city of Baltimore and its mayor, City Council, health commissioner and health department. Archbishop Edwin O'Brien said the ordinance "is a clear violation of these centers' constitutional rights to free speech and their free exercise of religion" (AP/San Francisco Examiner, 3/29).
According to the Baltimore Sun, the ordinance requires that a "limited-service pregnancy center" posts an easily readable sign in English and Spanish stating that the center does not offer abortion and birth control services, nor does it provide referrals for such services. Centers that fail to comply within 10 days of being cited could be fined up to $150 per day (Jones, Baltimore Sun, 3/29).
The ordinance was introduced in 2009 by then-City Council President Stephanie Rawlings-Blake -- who is now mayor -- and approved in January. Some abortion-rights groups had reported that some CPCs were providing women with inaccurate information, such as claims that abortion is linked to breast cancer and other health problems (AP/San Francisco Examiner, 3/29).
Planned Parenthood of Maryland and NARAL Pro-Choice Maryland support the ordinance. NARAL-Maryland Executive Director Jennifer Blasdell said the ordinance "empowers women by giving them full information up front about what to expect from a limited-service pregnancy center." She added, "This provision does not ask a facility to provide or counsel for any services they find objectionable, but only asks them to tell the truth about the nature of their services" (Baltimore Sun, 3/29).
In a statement, O'Brien said that the ordinance is unconstitutional because it applies only to centers that do not provide abortion services. The suit argues that the ordinance "targets for speech regulation only one side of a contentious public, political debate," O'Brien said. He added that the suit also claims that CPCs are wrongfully required to state that they do not offer birth control services because they provide "education about abstinence and natural family planning."
Baltimore City Solicitor George Nilson in a statement on Monday said the city will defend the ordinance, adding, "Our office approved the constitutionality of the measure when it was pending before the council" (AP/San Francisco Examiner, 3/29).
Mark Graber, University of Maryland School of Law professor of law and government, said the law seems to be in favor of the city, adding that the Supreme Court has made clear that advertising does not have the same free speech protections as political speech. He said, "All government is doing here is asking people to tell the truth," adding that the ordinance is "simply telling a pregnancy center that you must tell the truth about what you do" (Baltimore Sun, 3/29).