Friday, October 07, 2016

Disclaimer Requirement Violates Pregnancy Center's Free Speech Rights

In Greater Baltimore Center for Pregnancy Concerns, Inc. v. Mayor and City Council of Baltimore, (D MD, Oct. 4, 2016), a Maryland federal district court held that a Baltimore ordinance requiring limited purpose pregnancy centers to post specified disclaimers is unconstitutional as applied to the pregnancy center bringing the lawsuit.  The ordinance requires centers to post signs in their waiting rooms stating that they do not provide or make referrals for abortion or birth control services. The court, applying strict scrutiny, held that this compels the pregnancy center to speak, delivering information that it would not otherwise transmit. The court said in part:
The City identifies two interests to support the Ordinance: (1) to protect the public from deceptive business practices, and (2) to promote public health by “ensuring that individuals who seek reproductive health services have access to truthful information about the services available at Pregnancy Centers.”...
[H]ere, even if there had been bountiful evidence of misleading advertising, there is no evidence that women were coming to the Center under false pretenses and suffering harmful health consequences because of it. Thus, the City has not satisfied the “demanding standard” of showing that the Ordinance actually promotes a compelling interest in solving a specific problem.
ADF issued a press release announcing the decision and linking to other pleadings and court decisions in the long-running litigation.