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Court strikes down entirety of Md. county's 'forced speech' law for pregnancy centers

Victory for pro-life center represented by Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys

Friday, Mar 7, 2014

Attorney sound bite:  Matt Bowman

GREENBELT, Md. — A federal court issued a ruling Friday that strikes down the entirety of a Maryland county’s law that forced pro-life pregnancy counselors to advise women against using their services. The court’s permanent injunction prohibits the Montgomery County law from being enforced effective immediately.

The ruling is another positive sign in the nationwide battle against such ordinances. Other lawsuits are currently taking place in Baltimore, New York City, San Francisco, and Austin, Texas.

“Pregnancy centers, which offer real help and hope to women, shouldn’t be punished by political allies of abortion sellers,” said Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Legal Counsel Matt Bowman, co-counsel in the case. “The court rightly found no justification whatsoever for the government to force pro-life centers to speak a message designed to drive women away. The government cannot resort to coercing or shutting down someone else’s speech in violation of the First Amendment in order to achieve its political goals.”

The Montgomery County law forced “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. The county intentionally crafted the law so that it doesn’t apply to pro-abortion centers, such as Planned Parenthood, even if counseling is offered there by non-medical persons.

The opinion of the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland issued in Centro Tepeyac v. Montgomery County explained that “the critical flaw for the County is the lack of any evidence that the practices of [the pregnancy care centers] are causing pregnant women to be misinformed which is negatively affecting their health,” adding that “when core First Amendment interests are implicated, mere intuition [of a problem] is not sufficient. Yet that is all the County has brought forth: intuition and suppositions.”

The opinion further explained that the only people who alleged a “misinformation problem” on the part of pregnancy care centers “were universally volunteers from a pro-choice organization sent to investigate [their] practices.” Despite those allegations, “there is no evidence that those women failed to get the medical services and counseling they desired or that the time spent at the [centers] was to the detriment of their health,” the court concluded.

The new permanent injunction, which blocks the entirety of the law, comes after appeals to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit ultimately resulted in affirming the original 2011 preliminary injunction, which blocked the law in part.

Lead counsel Mark Rienzi is one of nearly 2,300 allied attorneys with Alliance Defending Freedom and a law professor at Catholic University of America’s Columbus School of Law. Allied attorneys Bob Michael, Bob Destro, and John Garza are also serving as co-counsel in the suit.
  • Pronunciation guide: Bowman (BOH’-min), Rienzi (Ree-EN’-zee)
Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith.
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