Baltimore’s Regulations for Pregnancy Center Held Unconstitutional

Once again, abortion and the First Amendment collide.

The Greater Baltimore Center for Pregnancy Concerns (“CPC”) is a nonprofit Christian organization that provides free pregnancy services including pregnancy tests, sonograms, and childcare education.   It also provides fee childcare products such as diapers, clothing, and books.  In keeping with its religious mission, it does not offer abortions or make referrals for abortions.

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In 2010, the City of Baltimore began requiring pregnancy centers that neither offer abortions nor refer patients for one disclose that information via signs posted in its waiting room.  The CPC sued the City, arguing that the ordinance infringes on its First Amendment rights to free speech, assembly, and religious exercise.

Earlier this year, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the CPC.  The Court first found that the ordinance as it applies to the CPC did not regulate commercial speech, since the CPC is motivated by moral and religious (rather than economic) reasons and does not pursue commercial transactions.  Additionally, the Court found that the ordinance did not regulate so-called “professional” speech either (such as speech by doctors, lawyers, accountants, etc.), as the CPC is not state-regulated, nor does it have paying clients.

And so, said the Court, because the ordinance regulates neither commercial nor professional speech, it must meet “strict scrutiny” to be constitutional, a high bar in legal terms.  The City argued that its ordinance protects against deceptive advertising and reduces health risks associated with delaying an abortion.  The Court, however, unanimously ruled that while the City’s concerns are vital government interests, there was no evidence that deception had occurred at the CPC, and that the ordinance unconstitutionally essentially compels pro-choice speech by a pro-life organization.  Although the Court did not rule that the City could not enforce its ordinance against anyone, it did rule that the ordinance could not be enforced against the CPC.

The Supreme Court is currently considering a very similar case out of California, and we’ll definitely update you once that decision comes out.

Case: Greater Baltimore Ctr. for Pregnancy Concerns, Inc. v. Mayor & City Council of Baltimore, No. 16-2325 (4th Cir. Jan. 5, 2018) (opinion here)

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