A federal appeals court on Friday found unconstitutional a Baltimore City law requiring that pro-life pregnancy clinics post a sign in their waiting rooms disclosing that they don’t offer or refer women for abortions.
In a 3-0 decision, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the Greater Baltimore Center for Pregnancy Concerns, a Christian nonprofit, which argued the law violated its First Amendment right to free speech.
Judge Harvie Wilkinson III said the city has "considerable latitude in regulating public health and deceptive advertising." But, he continued, "Baltimore’s chosen means here are too loose a 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 city claimed its ordinance was needed to prevent women seeking abortions from being misled by pro-life pregnancy centers and having their abortions delayed.
But Wilkinson, who wrote the court’s majority opinion, said the city was unable to identify a single example where a woman entered the Greater Baltimore Center’s waiting room under the wrong impression that she could obtain an abortion there.
“What the record does show is affirmative advocacy of abortion alternatives by a lawful non-profit group. None of the public advocacy of alternatives, however, suggests that the center would provide help or assistance in obtaining an abortion,” he wrote.
“Truthful affirmative assertions are not, without more, misleading.”
The Supreme Court is expected to hear a case later this term challenging a California law that requires licensed pregnancy centers run by religious nonprofits to post notices telling women how to get information on state-funded abortions and birth control.