Officials in Montgomery County, Maryland, have decided not to appeal an adverse court ruling that swamped their plans to silence pregnancy centers, and the decision is expected to have a ripple effect on similar cases in New York, San Francisco, Austin and Baltimore.
The case arose when abortion advocates in the government decided to require pro-life pregnancy centers that offer advice, diapers and other help to mother-to-be to post a sign advising women to go to another clinic for help.
The push for the mandatory signs came from county officials who adopted the demands of pro-abortion interests such as the National Abortion Rights Action League as their own.
But as U.S. District Judge Deborah Chasenow found, there was no evidence that such signs were needed.
“Even assuming … that [pro-life] centers are presenting themselves as medical providers and thus pregnant women are accepting their misinformation as sound medical advice, the county must still demonstrate the next supposition on the logical chain: that these practices are having the effect of harming the health of pregnant women,” the judge wrote in banning the county from imposing its signage requirement.
The judge said the county “has failed this task.”
“NARAL volunteers did not forgo medical care because of the [centers], they were merely testing the system as part of an investigation. Dr. Tillman, the county’s health officer and Rule 30(b)(6) expert, testified that she never received one complaint about [the centers] in the eight years she had been the county’s chief of public health, nor had any evidence that an actual pregnant woman – as opposed to a NARAL volunteer – delayed seeking medical care after patronizing a [center].”
The judge concluded that the county “put no evidence into the record to demonstrate that [the centers’] failure clearly to state that no doctors are on premises has led to any negative health outcomes.”
According to the Alliance Defending Freedom, which fought the court case on behalf of Centro Tepeyac, a Montgomery County pregnancy care center, the county now has decided not to appeal the Chasenow’s decision.
The organization said it’s a good sign.
“Pro-life pregnancy centers offer real help that many women want. The government cannot stifle these centers just because abortionists fear their hopeful message,” said lead counsel Mark Rienzi, one of more than 2,300 allied attorneys with ADF and a law professor at Catholic University of America’s Columbus School of Law. “Four years of litigation made it clear that the government had no basis for interfering with Centro Tepeyac’s loving efforts to help women.”
ADF Senior Legal Counsel Matt Bowman, co-counsel in the case, said the court “rightly found no justification for the government to force pro-life centers to speak a message designed to drive women away.”
“No government, in a quest to achieve a political goal, should ever resort to coercing or shutting down someone else’s speech in violation of the First Amendment,” Bowman said.
The county plan specifically had targeted pregnancy centers that did not offer abortions but, instead, provide information about pregnancy. They were required to post a sign declaring they had no medical professional present and a message from the county health department suggesting visitors contact a “licensed medical professional.”
Abortion businesses, such as Planned Parenthood, were exempted, even if the counseling they offered was from non-medical personnel.
The opinion of the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland issued in Centro Tepeyac v. Montgomery County concluded 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.”
The ruling said 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 judge pointedly noted that “the only people” alleging a problem were “universally volunteers from a pro-choice organization sent to investigate [their] practices.”
The judge’s permanent injunction blocks the Montgomery County law entirely.
Montgomery County has a reputation for pursuing a progressive agenda, including a “coed shower” measure that would allow people to uses sex-segregated facilities according to their self-declared “gender identity,” effectively, according to critics, allowing a man to use a woman’s locker room.