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Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett
A new law in a Maryland county that apparently intends to shut down the speech of pro-life counselors is being challenged in federal court by a pregnancy center that wants to continue offering free advice to mothers-to-be.
The lawsuit was filed yesterday in U.S. District Court in Maryland over the law adopted in Montgomery County that requires such counseling centers to post conspicuously a sign advising that there is no licensed medical professional on staff and the county health officer thinks women should consult their physicians.
According to the Alliance Defense Fund, which is pursuing the legal action, there are no similar requirements for abortion businesses.
“There is no abortion exception to the First Amendment,” Mark Rienzi, the lead counsel for Centro Tepeyac Women’s Center of Silver Spring and a law professor at Catholic University of America’s Columbus School of Law said.
“The government cannot create special speech rules just because people want to talk about pregnancy choices. And it certainly cannot target pro-life speakers for special sign requirements and fines while leaving speech by abortion clinics entirely unregulated,” he continued.
“This new regulation violates every core principle of free speech law,” he said.
Officials with Montgomery County, where Ike Leggett is its executive, declined to respond to telephone and e-mail requests for comment.
But ADF explained as the law is worded, it also could require “maternity stores, sidewalk counselors or anyone in a church that talks to pregnant women to ‘conspicuously post’ signs that state that no licensed medical professional is on staff.”
ADF said, “The county council explicitly admitted that the policy’s intent is to regulate pro-life centers because the council disagrees with their past speech about abortion’s risks.”
Fines of more than $20,000 a month are embedded in the law for those who say something they shouldn’t.
“The government’s enforcement of policies against pro-life pregnancy centers and its refusal to apply the same rules to abortion facilities is an unconstitutionally discriminatory practice,” said ADF Legal Counsel Casey Mattox. “These centers are honest, do not profit from their services, treat women with dignity, and offer them real choices. Planned Parenthood and its pro-abortion allies make millions performing abortions on women and girls in crisis, so they are undoubtedly only too happy to see the government engage in this unfair attack.”
It is the second such case that has arisen recently over attacks by abortion supporters on those who counsel against the termination of a baby’s life. ADF reported a lawsuit was filed by the pro-life Greater Baltimore Center for Pregnancy Concerns in Baltimore in March over a city policy that forces pro-life centers to post signs “stating that they don’t provide abortions or birth control referrals.”
There are no similar requirements for Planned Parenthood and other players in the region’s abortion industry.
The Montgomery County law states that the Board of Health has a “concern” that there would be people who would be “misled into believing that a center is providing medical services.”
The law said if that’s the case, then someone could “neglect” to “take action” and the result could be “adverse consequences.”
The lawsuit names the county, its board of health, department of health and county counsel Marc Hansen as defendants.
The lawsuit explains abortion businesses “can counsel women about pregnancy options without disclaimers as to the scope of their services, and without making mandatory statements about the views of the Montgomery County health officer.”
The plan violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments, the lawsuit argues.
The Constitution doesn’t allow, according to the lawsuit, “Speech restrictions – regulating private speech about the most controversial, political, social and ethical issue of our time – without any legislative evidence that plaintiffs or any other speaker regulated by the act have misled or misinformed patients.”
Montgomery County previously was in the news when county officials adopted a gender “anti-discrimination” rule that critics argued could create coed showers, locker rooms and other public facilities.
“With the bill’s vague wording, all an adult male has to do to gain legal access to facilities normally reserved for women and girls is to indicate, verbally or non-verbally, that he has a sense of being female at the moment,” said a group organized as Maryland Citizens for Responsible Government.
It later cited a case in which a man in a blue dress entered a female locker room at a local health club.