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4th Circuit: No government-controlled speech at Md. pregnancy resource centers

Court affirms strike-down of Baltimore and Montgomery County ordinances

Thursday, Jun 28, 2012
ADF attorney sound bite:  Matt Bowman

RICHMOND, Va. — The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit affirmed Wednesday that laws in Baltimore and Montgomery County, Md. that force pregnancy resource centers to post signs discouraging women from using their services are unconstitutional. Alliance Defense Fund attorneys represent a pregnancy resource center in the Montgomery County case and filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case involving the Baltimore law.

“Pregnancy centers offer real help and hope to women. They should be free to share that message instead of being compelled to provide the government’s preferred message, which sends women elsewhere,” said ADF Legal Counsel Matt Bowman. “Pregnancy centers provide women with the emotional support and practical resources they need, giving them more choices. They should not be made to speak negatively about the important services they provide. The 4th Circuit was right to rule against that in both of these cases.”

In Centro Tepeyac v. Montgomery County, the court upheld a district court’s decision that struck down most of the county’s ordinance and reversed the district court on the one section of the ordinance that it didn’t strike down, concluding that “it still amounts to an impermissible government control of speech.”

Mark Rienzi, an ADF-allied attorney and a law professor at Catholic University of America’s Columbus School of Law, argued before the court as lead counsel for Centro Tepeyac in March. Bowman served as co-counsel in the Montgomery County lawsuit as did attorneys Bob Michael and John Garza, two of more than 2,100 attorneys in the ADF alliance.

ADF attorneys filed suit against the county on behalf of Centro Tepeyac in May 2010. The suit concerned a new law that made “limited-service pregnancy centers” and individuals who have a “primary purpose” of offering information about pregnancy face steep fines if they do not post signs saying the county believes women should see a health care professional.

In 2011 in Greater Baltimore Center for Pregnancy Concerns v. Mayor and City Council of Baltimore, ADF together with the Jubilee Campaign’s Law of Life Project filed a friend-of-the-court brief with the 4th Circuit on behalf of three pro-life medical associations concerned about Baltimore’s law, which was similar to Montgomery County’s. ADF-allied attorney law professors with approximately 20 of their colleagues also filed a brief in opposition to the law.

ADF attorneys have filed two additional lawsuits involving such laws: one against New York City and the other against Austin, Texas. A federal court halted New York City’s law in July of last year.

ADF is a legal alliance of Christian attorneys and like-minded organizations defending the right of people to freely live out their faith. Launched in 1994, ADF employs a unique combination of strategy, training, funding, and litigation to protect and preserve religious liberty, the sanctity of life, marriage, and the family.