Anti-abortion pregnancy counseling centers in Baltimore are no longer required to post disclaimers saying they do not provide or make referrals for abortions or birth control in their waiting rooms, a federal appeals court ruled on Friday.
After nearly a decade of litigation, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a 2016 ruling that the Baltimore ordinance has been violating the First Amendment rights of the Greater Baltimore Center for Pregnancy Concerns, a nonprofit Christian organization that counsels women on alternatives to abortion, according to a report in The Hill on Friday.
The city’s lawyers claimed that the law was stopping supposedly “deceptive” practices and to prevent “health risks” that can arise from delaying an abortion.
But the city was never able to identify even one woman who walked into the center’s waiting room believing that she could obtain an abortion there.
“What the record does show is affirmative advocacy of abortion alternatives by a lawful non-profit group. None of the public advocacy of alternatives, however, suggests that the center would provide help or assistance in obtaining an abortion. Truthful affirmative assertions are not, without more, misleading,” according to the decision.
The Supreme Court is expected to hear a case later this term challenging a California law that requires licensed pregnancy centers run by religious nonprofits to post notices telling women how to get information on state-funded abortions and birth control, according to the report.
The court found that the law compelled “a politically and religiously motivated group to convey a message fundamentally at odds with its core belief and mission.”
“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 the 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,” Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson III wrote for the three-judge panel.
Tom Schetelich, chairman of the board of the center, called the ruling “a victory for the First Amendment and for the women of Baltimore.”