Saturday, January 06, 2018

4th Circuit Strikes Down Baltimore's Posting Requirement For Pregnancy Centers

In Greater Baltimore Center for Pregnancy Concerns, Inc., v. Mayor and City Council of Baltimore, (4th Cir., Jan. 5, 2018), the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals held unconstitutional a Baltimore ordinance requiring any "limited service pregnancy center" to post a notice in its waiting room telling clients that it "does not provide or make referral for abortion or birth-control services."  Finding that the speech being regulated is neither commercial speech nor professional speech, the Court held that the ordinance violates plaintiffs' 1st Amendment rights.  The Court said in part:
The dangers of compelled speech in an area as ideologically sensitive and spiritually fraught as this one require that the government not overplay its hand. Without proving the inefficacy of less restrictive alternatives, providing concrete evidence of deception, or more precisely targeting its regulation, the City cannot prevail. The Baltimore ordinance, as applied to the Center, fails to satisfy heightened First Amendment scrutiny.
...This court has in the past struck down attempts to compel speech from abortion providers.... And today we do the same with regard to compelling speech from abortion foes. We do so in belief that earnest advocates on all sides of this issue should not be forced by the state into a corner and required essentially to renounce and forswear what they have come as a matter of deepest conviction to believe.
This is the second time that the case has made it to the 4th Circuit. (See prior posting.) The Baltimore Sun reports on the decision.