What's at stake
Whether government can restrict the speech of pro-life pregnancy centers.
In February 2009, abortion advocates succeeded in persuading Montgomery County to enact an ordinance requiring pro-life pregnancy centers to prominently post signs stating that no medical professional is on staff and that the county advises them to speak to a medical professional about their pregnancy. The ordinance was crafted so that it did not require any signs to be posted by abortion facilities even where their counseling was offered by non-medical persons.
Alliance Defending Freedom and allied attorneys, including Professor Mark Rienzi, challenged the law as forced speech in violation of the First Amendment. A Maryland federal district court agreed, temporarily enjoining the law. After the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit upheld the injunction, the district court examined the evidence and in March 2014 held that the law was unconstitutional in its entirety, permanently prohibiting the county from enforcing it. The county did not appeal that decision.
The opinion of Judge Deborah K. Chasanow of the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland explained 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.” She added 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 opinion further explained that the only people who alleged a “misinformation problem” on the part of pregnancy care centers “were universally volunteers from a pro-choice organization sent to investigate [their] practices.” Despite those allegations, “there is no evidence that those women failed to get the medical services and counseling they desired or that the time spent at the [centers] was to the detriment of their health,” the court concluded.
“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 and ADF allied attorney Mark Rienzi.
“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,” said ADF senior legal counsel Matt Bowman.
Our role in this case
ADF served as co-counsel on the case with allied attorney Mark Rienzi representing a Maryland pregnancy center.