By Maria Wiering
The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled July 3 that the City of Baltimore deserves an opportunity to pursue full discovery, a chance to ask questions and gain more information, in a lawsuit brought against it by a Baltimore pregnancy help center and St. Brigid Catholic Church in Canton.
The Greater Baltimore Center for Pregnancy Concerns and St. Brigid, which hosts a GBCPC site, sued Baltimore City in 2010 after it passed an ordinance forcing the center to post signs stating that it does not provide abortions or artificial contraception. The archdiocese and the GBCPC argued that the signs violated the organization’s free speech rights.
A judge ruled in favor of the archdiocese and the GBCPC in January 2012. The ruling was appealed, and a three-judge panel ruled in June 2012 to affirm the lower court’s ruling. As the Catholic Review previously reported, the court decided in August to rehear the case en banc – or as a full court – voiding the June decision opposing the Baltimore City ordinance and a similar law in Montgomery County. The case was heard in December.
Four of the judges found the ruling to be unconstitutional. The other eight judges, while ruling that Baltimore City deserved full discovery, did not make a judgment on the constitutionality of the ordinance.
“We are confident that today’s procedural ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit will eventually lead to a ruling that affirms pregnant women in need of assistance and the First Amendment principles we treasure in a free society,” Archbishop William E. Lori, one of the plaintiffs, said in a July 3 statement. “We continue to believe the ordinance is based solely on the centers’ moral and religious beliefs.”
He added: “We plan to support these centers as they respond to the court’s request for additional information and are confident that the court will issue a final ruling that denounces the ordinance as unconstitutional.”