United States District Court Judge Marvin Garbis ruled yesterday that a Baltimore ordinance requiring that “limited-service pregnancy centers” display signs in both English and Spanish indicating that they do not provide or make referrals for abortions or comprehensive birth control services was unconstitutional. Judge Garbis stated that the ordinance violated the Freedom of Speech Clause in the Constitution.
The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Baltimore and the Greater Baltimore Center for Pregnancy Concerns, which is provided space from the archdiocese at no cost, filed the lawsuit in March 2010. The Catholic Church owns two crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs), according to the Associated Press, that would have been required under the ordinance to post signs.
Stephanie Toti, senior staff attorney at the Center for Reproductive Rights, stated, “We plan to immediately appeal today’s court’s decision and we are confident we will prevail. Baltimore’s ordinance is a common sense measure designed to protect consumers from a long-standing and documented pattern of deceptive practices by crisis pregnancy centers.”
Currently, there are an estimated 3,500 CPCs nationwide, most of which are affiliated with one or more national umbrella organizations. CPCs often pose as comprehensive 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.