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Court puts hold on discriminatory law targeting Md. pro-life pregnancy resource centers

Ruling says county cannot require PRCs to post signs advising women to seek help elsewhere

Tuesday, Mar 15, 2011
GREENBELT, Md. — Most of a Montgomery County law forcing pro-life pregnancy counselors to advise women against using their services was put on hold Tuesday by a federal court while a lawsuit against the ordinance moves forward. Alliance Defense Fund attorneys represent a Silver Spring pregnancy resource center in the lawsuit against the county.

Under the law, pro-life pregnancy resource centers must post signage noting that the county believes women should seek assistance elsewhere. The court issued an order preventing the county from enforcing that requirement and will consider additional arguments before ruling on a part of the law that requires the centers to post that a medical professional is not on staff. The county intentionally crafted the law so that it doesn’t apply to pro-abortion centers, such as Planned Parenthood.

“There is no abortion exception to the First Amendment,” said Mark Rienzi, lead counsel for the Centro Tepeyac Women’s Center and a law professor at Catholic University of America’s Columbus School of Law.  “The court was right to issue this order. The county has no business taking over the walls of pro-life pregnancy centers to tell women to go seek help elsewhere.”

“Pregnancy centers, which offer real help and hope to women, shouldn’t be punished by political allies of the abortion industry,” said ADF Legal Counsel Matt Bowman. “Attacks on pregnancy centers are an ideologically motivated attempt to distract from the growing national scandals in the abortion industry. For years, abortionists have preyed on women and girls for profit. Now pro-abortion politicians are trying to give these women fewer choices. This order is a step in the right direction.”

The court issued the order because it believes that Centro Tepeyac is likely to succeed on its most significant arguments. The law forces “limited-service pregnancy centers” and individuals who have a “primary purpose” of offering information about pregnancy to post signage noting that a medical professional is not on staff and that the county health department advises them to speak with a licensed medical professional. Under the new court order, the centers no longer have to post the latter portion, and they can continue to challenge the rest of the requirements as the case proceeds.

Under Resolution No. 16-1252, failure to post such signs can result in fines of more than $20,000 a month: $500 for the first day of violation and $750 for each day thereafter. Additionally, anyone that speaks to a pregnant woman--including maternity store employees, sidewalk counselors and church members--may also be required to “conspicuously post” signage.

Attorney Bob Michael and ADF-allied attorney John Garza, two of nearly 1,900 attorneys in the ADF alliance, are serving as co-counsel in the lawsuit, Centro Tepeyac v. Montgomery County, filed with the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland in May.

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.