Court rules in favor of Archdiocese of Baltimore on free-speech case

By George P. Matysek Jr.
gmatysek@CatholicReview.org
Twitter: @ReviewMatysek
Archbishop William E. Lori praised an Oct. 4 ruling by the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland that found it a violation of free speech for the City of Baltimore to direct what pro-life pregnancy centers must say on signs posted on their property.
The controversy goes back to a 2009 law passed by the city requiring pro-life pregnancy centers to state that they do not provide abortion and birth control.
The Archdiocese of Baltimore challenged the law in federal court, arguing that such signs were a violation of First Amendment rights and that the law unfairly targeted pro-life pregnancy centers while no such signs were required of other centers indicating which services they don’t provide.
U.S. District Court Judge Marvin J. Garbis ruled in 2011 that the law was unconstitutional, a decision that was upheld a year later by a three-judge panel on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit. After a larger group of judges on the 4th Circuit said the lower court had acted too quickly, the case was sent back to U.S. District Court for further proceedings, where Garbis again ruled in favor of the archdiocese this month.
“This Court has once again undertaken a careful and thorough review of Baltimore City’s unfair ordinance and properly concluded that it would stifle the religious liberty and free speech of pro-life pregnancy centers,” Archbishop Lori said in a written Oct. 7 statement.
The archbishop said he was grateful to all who worked to ensure the successful outcome of the case, including his predecessor, Cardinal Edwin O’Brien, “who helped to lead the fight against this onerous law, and stood up for the charitable, life-affirming work of crisis pregnancy centers in Baltimore.”
“I also thank and commend the Center for Pregnancy Concerns for its good work in protecting the physical, emotional and spiritual lives of women and their unborn children,” Archbishop Lori said. “It is hoped that today’s ruling will mark an end to any effort by the city to compel private citizens, such as those who work and volunteer in pregnancy centers, to convey a government-mandated message.”
David W. Kinkopf, an attorney with Gallagher, Evelius and Jones, noted in 2010 that by highlighting what services are not provided at pro-life pregnancy centers, there is an implication that they are not equipped to help women.

He also pointed out that the signs inaccurately assert that pro-life pregnancy centers do not offer birth control when they do, in fact, offer information on abstinence and natural family planning.

The Center for Pregnancy Concerns provides free services to 1,200 pregnant women in Baltimore City annually, and handles approximately 8,000 calls to its 24-hour hotline. Some of its services have been offered in facilities owned by the Archdiocese of Baltimore.

Carol Clews, executive director of the Center for Pregnancy Concerns, said in an Oct. 4 news release that the center is pleased that the federal district court in Baltimore joined “many other courts around the country” in striking down similar attempts to “infringe on the First Amendment rights of the pro-life pregnancy centers.”
Clews noted that the federal district court in Greenbelt recently rejected Montgomery County’s attempt to enforce a similar ordinance against a pro-life center, while the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit and a federal district court in Texas enjoined similar disclaimer requirements enacted by New York City and the City of Austin, respectively.
“We hope that the City (of Baltimore) will now recognize that it should not expend additional resources trying to justify this indefensible ordinance,” Clews said.
Clews called it a “shame” that the city has continued defending the law for more than six years when, “as the court found, the City has no evidence of harm or an actual problem that is solved by compelling us to speak in our private centers in the way mandated by the city.”
“As the Court noted,” she said, “we provide free material assistance and educational programs to thousands of women and are committed to providing accurate information to the women we serve.”

Also see:

Archbishop Lori dedicates new Women’s Care Center across from abortion facility

Finding healing after an abortion in the Archdiocese of Baltimore

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