On Friday, a district judge in Maryland struck down a law that required certain disclosures to be made by pregnancy centers – disclosures that were aimed at chilling free speech rights.
Four years ago, on February 2, 2010, the Montgomery County Council passed a resolution requiring disclosures to be made by certain pregnancy resource centers. These disclosures were to be made in the form of a public sign in the waiting room that stated, “the Center does not have a licensed medical professional on staff” and “the Montgomery County Health Officer encourages women who are or may be pregnant to consult with a licensed health care provider.”
According to Ms. Vera, Executive Director of Centro Tepeyac, a pregnancy resource center in Montgomery County:
The Resolution chills and burdens the free speech rights of Centro Tepeyac, by forcing us to suggest to our clients that we are not qualified to talk with them or to provide them with assistance. Likewise, it chills our free speech rights by forcing us to post a sign suggesting that the County believes they should go elsewhere. The Resolution has chilled and burdened the Center in that it has taken critical time and attention away from our core mission of helping women.
Centro Tepeyac filed a lawsuit in May of 2010. While the Court had previously granted a temporary injunction, on Friday the Court struck down the entire law after a review of the parties’ briefs and applicable law. As Judge Chasanow stated in her decision:
The record produced by Defendants is simply insufficient to sustain this regulation of Plaintiff’s First Amendment rights. Assuming arguendo that the County has a compelling interest in positive health outcomes for pregnant women, the critical flaw for the County is the lack of any evidence that the practices of [pregnancy resource centers] are causing pregnant women to be misinformed which is negatively affecting their health.
According to Mat Bowman, Senior Legal Counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom:
The court rightly found no justification whatsoever for the government to force pro-life centers to speak a message designed to drive women away. The government cannot resort to coercing or shutting down someone else’s speech in violation of the First Amendment in order to achieve its political goals.
Alliance Defending Freedom reports that similar lawsuits are in progress in Baltimore, New York City, San Francisco, and Austin.