Baltimore Pregnancy Center Refuses to Stop Fighting, Wins another Legal Victory against Local Ordinance

Thomas M. Messner, J.D.  

A pro-life pregnancy help center (PHC) in Baltimore has won another legal victory in its fight against a city ordinance.

 

The Baltimore ordinance would have forced Greater Baltimore Pregnancy Concerns Center to post a disclaimer in its waiting room stating that it does not provide or make referrals for abortion or birth-control services.

 

This latest victory for the Greater Baltimore Pregnancy Concerns Center (the “Center”) comes six years and six months after it first filed a lawsuit challenging the Baltimore ordinance. The Center filed its lawsuit on March 29, 2010 and, on September 29, 2016, the federal district court in Maryland issued an order in favor of the Center.

 

(The court issued an opinion on October 4, 2016 and a judgment order on October 21, 2016.)

 

The lawsuit stems from a Baltimore ordinance enacted in 2009. As explained by the court, the ordinance “requires a ‘limited-service pregnancy center’ (‘LSPC’) to post a disclaimer in its waiting room notifying clients that it ‘does not provide or make referral for abortion or birth-control services.’” The disclaimer “must consist of one or more signs” that are “‘easily readable’ and ‘conspicuously posted’ in the waiting room or equivalent area.”

 

The PHC objected to this mandate.

 

As set forth by the court, quoting from an affidavit, “According to the Center, ‘[t]he Disclaimer would alter the course of the Center’s communications with its visitors’ because it would ‘ensure that every conversation at the Center begins with the subject of abortion and a government warning.’”

 

The court quotes from the same affidavit in explaining that the disclaimer as mandated “‘forces pregnancy centers to begin their conversations with a stark government disclaimer, divorced from the support offered by the Center, and suggesting that abortion is available elsewhere and might be considered a good option by pregnant women – a message that the Center expressly finds morally offensive and would not otherwise provide.’”

 

In 2011, the PHC won an initial victory in the federal district court. This latest victory comes after further proceedings following a trip to federal appellate court.

 

A resource page for the case is made available by Alliance Defending Freedom at this link. A release issued by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty regarding the recent win is available at this link.

 

The Social Value Created by Pregnancy Help Centers

 

This case provides an occasion to recall the tremendous social value PHCs create throughout the nation.

 

A report published by the Family Research Council (FRC) provides statistics gleaned from data “represent[ing] 1,969 pregnancy centers in the U.S. affiliated with Care Net, Heartbeat International, and/or [the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates].”

 

The FRC report states, “In 2010, [PHCs] served over 2.3 million people with pregnancy assistance, abstinence counseling and education, community outreach programs and referrals, and public health linkages.”

 

“A conservative estimate of community cost savings for these services during 2010,” the report states, “is over $100 million.”

 

Additional figures provided by the report for the year 2010 include:

  • 963,000 instances of consulting with new clients
  • 720,000 instances of pregnancy tests
  • 230,000 ultrasounds performed
  • 292,000 clients attending parenting programs
  • 5,705,000 uncompensated hours of help provided by 71,000 volunteers

Commitment to supporting and defending PHCs should remain unswerving—even as political uncertainty and social unrest continue to shape the contours of the abortion debate.

 

Attempts to undermine the work being done by PHCs should be met with the strongest resistance.

 

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Defending the Freedom of Pro-Life Individuals and Organizations

 

The recent win in the Greater Baltimore Pregnancy Concerns Center case also provides a reminder that, on top of defending the value of human life, pro-life individuals and organizations are also forced to fight for the freedom to live out their pro-life beliefs.

 

The Baltimore ordinance is not an isolated attack on PHCs. According to Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Counsel Matthew Bowman, the Baltimore ordinance “is very similar to ones in other places of the country, such as California and Illinois, where ADF is currently seeking to protect the constitutionally protected freedoms of other pregnancy resource centers that are being threatened by the government.”

 

The core of the abortion debate is about what protections government should extend to human beings before they are born.

 

But attempts to undermine the mission of PHCs illustrate a second front in the abortion debate. On this second front pro-life individuals and organizations must fight simply for the freedom to live out their pro-life beliefs.

 

In a recent paper, Lozier Institute researcher Tim Bradley examined several cases illustrating this second front of struggle.

  • PHCs must fight for the freedom not to communicate messages they do not wish to communicate.
  • Pro-life pharmacists must fight for the freedom not to provide abortion drugs.
  • Pro-life healthcare students and professionals must fight for the right or the freedom to abide by their pro-life beliefs in educational programs or workplaces.
  • Pro-life businesses and religious organizations must fight for the freedom not to include abortion drugs in health insurance plans.
  • Some churches are even being forced to fight for the freedom not to include elective abortion procedures in their health insurance plans.

Read Tim Bradley’s paper “Unconscionable: Threats to Religious Freedom and Rights of Conscience in the Abortion Debate” by clicking here.

 

Advancing the Pro-Life Movement on All Fronts

 

The Baltimore case provides occasion to remember that important pro-life work is being done on many fronts. A vigorous pro-life movement must continue to advance in six main areas.

  1. Provide loving help and support to pregnant mothers and their babies through local PHCs.
  1. Defend the freedom of PHCs to help mothers and babies and defend the freedom of all pro-life individuals and institutions to live out their pro-life beliefs.
  1. Advocate for government policies that protect all human life and defend those policies in court.
  1. Conduct scientific, sociological, and statistical research in support of pro-life policies and litigation.
  1. Work to elect lawmakers who will support pro-life policies and who will appoint judges who will uphold the law.
  1. Develop strategic educational and media initiatives to inform citizens and shape opinions about the value of all human life.

Thomas M. Messner, J.D., is Senior Fellow in Legal Policy at the Charlotte Lozier Institute.

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