A Federal court ruled on Monday that Baltimore and Montgomery County, Maryland, cannot require crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) to post signs indicating what types of services they provide. In a 2-1 vote, the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court’s decision that the requirement was unconstitutional. Baltimore and Montgomery County had required that the signs must state whether the CPCs provide abortion and contraceptive services, as well as maternity and prenatal care, infant supplies, and adoption services.

In the majority opinion, Judge Paul V. Niemeyer wrote, “To be sure, Montgomery County is entitled to believe that pregnancy is first and foremost a medical condition, but it may not compel unwilling speakers to express that view.” A spokesman for Baltimore city defended the struck-down law, saying, “The law itself would not have been necessary if there were not serious and compelling evidence and testimony that the centers provided false and misleading medical information to vulnerable women.”

Baltimore, Montgomery Country, and Austin, Texas were the first three localities in the United States to pass Truth in Advertising legislation. In July 2011, Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) and Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) introduced a bill that would regulate the misleading advertising practices of CPCs nationwide.

Currently, there are an estimated 3,500 CPCs nationwide, most of which are affiliated with one or more national umbrella organizations. CPCs pose as legitimate health centers and offer “free” pregnancy tests. Some CPCs coerce and intimidate women out of considering abortion as an option, and prevent women from receiving neutral and comprehensive medical advice. These clinics are typically run by anti-abortion volunteers who are not licensed medical professionals.

Washington Post 6/28/12; Bloomberg News 6/27/12; Baltimore Sun 6/27/12; AP 6/27/12; Feminist Daily Newswire 3/26/12