Federal Appeals Court Strikes Down Md. Crisis Pregnancy Center Regulations
July 2, 2012 — A federal appeals court on Wednesday affirmed that regulations in Baltimore and Montgomery County, Md., requiring crisis pregnancy centers to post disclaimers are unconstitutional, the Washington Post's "Maryland Politics" reports.
Abortion-rights supporters contend that the centers mislead women to discourage them from obtaining abortions. A 2006 congressional report found that federally funded CPCs were telling women inaccurate information, such as that abortion can increase the risk of breast cancer. The pregnancy centers involved in the suit maintain that they offer women needed support and do not receive government funding (Zapana, "Maryland Politics," Washington Post, 6/28).
The three judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals voted 2-1 to uphold a lower court's ruling against the Baltimore ordinance (FID 09-0406) (Rector, Baltimore Sun, 6/27). The ordinance was approved in 2009 but had not been enforced because of the court proceedings. It requires "limited-service pregnancy centers" to post signs in English and Spanish stating what services they provide -- such as maternity and infant supplies, prenatal care and adoption referrals -- and what they do not offer, including abortion care. Centers that fail to comply within 10 days of being cited by city inspectors could be fined $150 per day (Women's Health Policy Report, 1/31/11).
Ryan O'Doherty -- a spokesperson for the measure's sponsor, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake -- said the mayor stands behind the law. "The City Solicitor will carefully review the ruling and consider all legal options going forward," O'Doherty said.
Meanwhile, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Baltimore praised the court's decision. Archbishop William Lori in a statement commended the court "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" (Baltimore Sun, 6/27).
Montgomery County Ordinance
The panel also struck down a similar Montgomery County regulation, which was approved by the Montgomery County Council in 2010. In his majority opinion, Judge Paul Niemeyer wrote, "To be sure, Montgomery County is entitled to believe that pregnancy is first and foremost a medical condition, but it may not compel unwilling speakers to express that view" ("Maryland Politics," Washington Post, 6/28).