After several years of various courts forcing Christian pregnancy centers and counseling groups to promote abortion – even though it violates their faith – it appears the tide is turning.
The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals Friday struck down a Baltimore ordinance that required pregnancy centers to post “notices that conspicuously state in English and Spanish that they do not provide nor refer women for abortions or birth control services.”
The appeals court found that the ordinance violates the free speech clause of the First Amendment.
The opinion said: “The compelled speech at issue here raises particularly troubling First Amendment concerns. At bottom, the disclaimer portrays abortion as one among a menu of morally equivalent choices. While that may be the city’s view, it is not the center’s.”
The ruling also found the ordinance was an impermissible attempt by Baltimore officials “to use compelled speech as a weapon to run its ideological foes into the ground.”
Liberty Counsel represents three additional pro-life crisis pregnancy centers that have been fighting the same battle in California, and the Supreme Court has agreed to hear National Institute of Family and Life Advocates v. Becerra.
It’s one of multiple cases brought by crisis pregnancy centers challenging the California requirement to promote abortion. When that case is decided, it will apply nationwide.
It was the Ninth Circuit in California, the most overturned appeals court in the country, that validated the law in that state.
The Fourth Circuit found that Baltimore “has considerable latitude in regulating public health and deceptive advertising.”
But that doesn’t apply in this case, the judges said.
“Baltimore’s chosen means here are too loose to fit with those ends, and in this case compel a politically and religiously motivated group to convey a message fundamentally at odds with its core beliefs and mission.”
The case was brought by the Greater Baltimore Center for Pregnancy Concerns.
Its position had been upheld earlier, at the district court level, but the city continued trying to force the organization to carry the message it demanded.
The district court had found “the ordinance violated the Free Speech Clause because it was not narrowly tailored to accomplish a compelling government interest.”
That ruling found the city imposed a rule “that regulates noncommercial speech” and is “content-based.”
The appeals ruling said the city’s message “is antithetical to the very moral, religious, and ideological reasons the center exists.”
It continued: “States must have room for reasonable regulation. But there is a limit to how much they can dictate core beliefs. This court has in the past struck down attempts to compel speech from abortion providers. And today we do the same with regard to compelling speech from abortion foes.”
“We are committed to serving women in need in a way that respects their choices, comforts them in a difficult time and is in line with our mission,” said Carol Clews, executive director of the Center for Pregnancy Concerns. “This court ruling means that we can do our job and the government can’t tell us what to say or how to say it.”
The center helps nearly 10,000 women a year who face unplanned pregnancies with pregnancy tests, baby and maternity clothes, parenting classes and job placement.
WND reported last summer a federal judge in Illinois came to the same conclusion.
U.S. District Judge Frederick Kapala determined an amendment to the state’s health care laws likely will be overturned when the issue comes to trial.
He issued a temporary injunction preventing the law’s enforcement until the case is concluded.
“The amended act targets the free speech rights of people who have a specific viewpoint,” he wrote.
The law would require doctors and pregnancy care centers, even those that are pro-life, to promote abortion.
“The government is out of line when it attempts to force Americans to communicate a message that is contrary to their most deeply held beliefs,” said Alliance Defending Freedom Legal Counsel Elissa Graves.
“In addition, the state shouldn’t be robbing women of the freedom to choose a pro-life doctor by mandating that pro-life physicians and entities make or arrange abortion referrals. The court was right to halt enforcement of this law while our lawsuit proceeds.”
It’s not a new dispute. WND reported in 2014 on almost identical arguments in Montgomery County, Maryland, where an appeals court decided against rules that would restrict the speech of pregnancy centers.
Related cases also have developed in New York and Austin, Texas.
The New Jersey case arose when abortion advocates in the government decided to require pro-life pregnancy centers that offer advice, diapers and other help to mothers-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.
But as U.S. District Judge Deborah Chasenow found there, 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.”