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Baltimore appeals ruling blocking enforcement of CPC disclosure ordinance

Attorneys representing the city of Baltimore last week asked the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to review a lower court decision barring city officials from enforcing a 2009 ordinance (FID 09-0406) aimed at curbing crisis pregnancy centers' (CPC) misinformation, the AP/Sacramento Bee reports.

According to the AP/Bee, the ordinance is on hold until the ongoing lawsuit is resolved (AP/Sacramento Bee, 11/17).

Background

The Baltimore ordinance would require "limited-service pregnancy centers" to post signs in English and Spanish stating what services they provide -- such as maternity and infant supplies, prenatal care and adoption referrals -- and what they do not offer, such as abortion care and contraceptive services. Centers that fail to comply within 10 days of being cited by city inspectors could be fined $150 per day.

In January 2011, U.S. District Judge Marvin Garbis ruled that the Baltimore ordinance violates the Freedom of Speech Clause of the Constitution and cannot be enforced. City officials and the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) appealed the decision, and in 2013, the full 4th Circuit ruled that the decision was "inappropriate" and remanded the lawsuit back to Garbis.

In 2014, a federal judge ruled against a similar ordinance in Montgomery County.

District court says city cannot enforce law

Last month, Garbis refused to rule that the ordinance was unconstitutional, but he said allowing Baltimore officials to enforce the ordinance would violate the free-speech rights of the Center for Pregnancy Concerns. He wrote that the city failed to demonstrate that the CPC had harmed women or that the ordinance was written narrowly enough to shield women from false advertising.

Garbis restricted his ruling solely to the Center for Pregnancy Concerns. According to Garbis, the CPC had told callers seeking abortion care that they did not provide that service and disclosed their antiabortion-rights stance in a brochure. Garbis noted that while another Baltimore-based CPC might have similar claims against the ordinance, he did not have sufficient evidence to issue a broader ruling (Women's Health Policy Report, 10/11).

Comments

Suzanna Sangree, lead counsel for the city of Baltimore, denounced the lower court decision, saying, "Women seeking reproductive health care need accurate information, not deception and lies."

Separately, Stephanie Toti , senior counsel at CRR, said, "Crisis pregnancy centers in Baltimore and across the nation have a long record of using dishonest tactics to interfere with women’s access to abortion and contraception." She added, "We continue to stand with the City of Baltimore in defense of this common sense measure" (Center for Reproductive Rights press release, 11/16).