Baltimore city lawyers are appealing to reinforce a previously overturned ordinance affecting local pregnancy centers. The law, passed in 2009, requires said centers to indicate whether or not abortions and/or birth control are provided on site.
The ordinance remained intact until this past summer, when the Baltimore District Court elected to examine its constitutionality. The reexamination concluded about a month ago with District Court Judge Marvin Garbis' decision to have it overturned. According to the court opinion, the law infringed upon healthcare facilities' First Amendment speech rights, by forcing them to adopt government-dictated text.
The law was originally deemed to have passed the "strict scrutiny" test, a standard that enables lawmakers to circumvent First Amendment protections. More specifically, the restriction was believed to "promote a compelling interest," thereby allotting the city of Baltimore a certain degree of control over its healthcare centers. Judge Garbis, however disagreed, stating the law did not serve an excusable purpose aimed at "solving a specific problem."
Enforcement of the ordinance has ceased until further notice, which effectively provides local pregnancy centers with greater control over their patient disclosure policies. Unsatisfied with this outcome, many pro-choice advocates have dismissed the increased discretion afforded to healthcare centers. By failing to disclose what services they do and, in this case, do not provide, limited-service pregnancy centers are deceiving patients, according to Baltimore city counsel, Suzanne Sangree. The discontinuation arguably "delays [a woman] in receiving services she may need," which is problematic.
Judge Garbis' decision represents a legal win for the pro-life community, but the lifetime of this victory is questionable. The District Court will soon hear appeals and have to decide whether or not providing "accurate healthcare information" qualifies as an excuse worthy of bypassing the First Amendment.
Cohen, Henry. (2008). "Freedom of Speech and Press: Exceptions to the First Amendment." U.S. Department of State.
Daily Record Staff. (2016). "Baltimore appeals pregnancy center sign ruling to 4th Circuit." The Daily Record.
Kirkwood, Lauren. (2016). "Judge: Baltimore's pregnancy center sign ordinance violates First Amendment." The Daily Record.