The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit has ruled that a Baltimore ordinance forcing pro-life pregnancy centers to post signs about abortion is unconstitutional.
The court unanimously affirmed a lower court’s ruling that the ordinance requiring the pregnancy centers to post signs announcing they do not provide abortions is a violation of the First Amendment.
“The City has considerable latitude in regulating public health and deceptive advertising,” the court found. “But Baltimore’s chosen means here are too loose a fit with those ends, and in this case compel a politically and religiously motivated group to convey a message fundamentally at odds with its core beliefs and mission.”
As Becket Law – the non-profit religious liberty law firm that represents the Center – explains, in the case of the Greater Baltimore Center for Pregnancy Concerns, Inc. v. Mayor and City Council of Baltimore, a 2009 city ordinance forced the pregnancy center to either refer women for abortions or post signs on the walls of the center – which is owned by a Catholic church – that state they “do not provide or make referrals for abortion or birth control services.”
The city, however, did not require abortion clinics to inform clients about services they do not provide – such as prenatal care and adoption.
The pregnancy center sued the city in 2010 and won; it also won following the city government’s appeals.
In Friday’s decision, the court said the city of Baltimore had adopted “retributive speech restrictions” on pro-life individuals and referred to the ordinance as a “grave violation” of “our nation’s dearest principles.”
“We are very pleased that the Fourth Circuit strongly upheld the First Amendment rights of religious and other nonprofit charities to speak and to serve those in need in the manner their conscience dictates, without undue government interference,” David Kinkopf of Gallagher, Evelius & Jones, which also represents the Center, said in a statement.
“Today’s decision confirms that government has no place mandating speech—especially speech associated with deeply-held religious beliefs,” Mark Rienzi, senior counsel at Becket, also said. “The Center can now continue helping women in need without the government telling them how to talk about abortion.”
Carol Clews, executive director of the Center for Pregnancy Concerns, reacted, “This court ruling means that we can do our job and the government can’t tell us what to say or how to say it.”
Ashley McGuire of The Catholic Association, which filed an amicus brief in the case, said in a statement sent to Breitbart News that the court’s decision is “a common-sense ruling” and a “decisive victory for the free speech rights of these centers, which serve women and offer them true choices and hope when they are in difficult situations.”
“We now look to the Supreme Court to put an end once and for all to the unconstitutional bullying of pregnancy clinics,” she added.
Deanna Wallace, director of legal communications for Americans United for Life – which also filed a brief in the case – said in a statement, “Pregnancy Care Centers provide real care and hope for women who are facing unplanned pregnancies. These life-affirming centers should not be forced to promote the abortion industry’s agenda in order to help women.”
“The ordinance in the Baltimore case is a blatant attempt to undermine the life-affirming work of pregnancy care centers by forcing the posting of messages about abortions in their facilities,” Wallace added. “Clearly, the abortion industry feels threatened by the ability of these dedicated pregnancy care centers to provide women with alternatives to abortion, and is trying to protect their profits by forcing pro-life pregnancy centers to promote abortion.”