Appeals court to rehear pregnancy center’s free speech case

By Maria Wiering
A federal court case involving the Greater Baltimore Center for Pregnancy Concerns and the Archdiocese of Baltimore is scheduled for a rehearing, voiding an earlier court decision upholding the center’s free speech rights.
The case will be reheard Dec. 6 in Richmond, Va., before the full 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which includes 15 judges.
The archdiocese, pregnancy center and St. Brigid’s Catholic Church, where the center is located, challenged a 2009 Baltimore City law requiring the center to post notices stating they do not provide abortion or artificial contraception. The plaintiffs argued that the compelled speech violated First Amendment rights.
On June 27, a three-member panel of 4th Circuit judges ruled to uphold a lower court’s decision in favor of the Baltimore City pregnancy center, archdiocese and parish.
The Washington-based Center for Reproductive Rights praised the court’s decision to rehear the case and said it will continue its efforts to “fight alongside” Baltimore City against “deceptive crisis pregnancy centers.”
Baltimore City charges that not posting the disclaimers misleads women who are seeking abortions or artificial contraception.
“The women of Baltimore deserve timely access to comprehensive reproductive health care services, not lies and delay tactics,” said Stephanie Toti, senior staff attorney for the Center for Reproductive Rights, in an Aug. 15 statement.
The archdiocese said it expects “another fair review of this ordinance” to find in the pregnancy center’s favor.
“Every judicial review of this onerous law has resulted in the same finding: namely, that it is a violation of these centers’ First Amendment rights, including freedom of speech and religious liberty,” the archdiocese said in an Aug. 16 statement. 
“This law unfairly targets pro-life pregnancy centers which provide critical resources to women in crisis pregnancies who seek to carry their baby to term,” it said.
GBCPC Executive Director Carol Clews said the rehearing is a “shame.” 
“As unwelcome as it is, it was not unexpected,” she said. “I think the issue will be defeated again because it’s such a clear violation of the First Amendment.”
Copyright (c) Aug. 20, 2012

Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.