GREENBELT, Md. — Alliance Defense Fund attorneys filed suit Wednesday against Montgomery County on behalf of a Silver Spring pregnancy resource center. The suit concerns a new law that makes “limited-service pregnancy centers” and individuals who have a “primary purpose” of offering information about pregnancy face steep fines if they don’t post signs saying the county believes women should consult someone else.
Specifically, the signs must tell women that a licensed medical professional is not on staff and that the county health department advises them to speak with a licensed medical professional. The discriminatory policy does not require pro-abortion facilities, such as Planned Parenthood, to provide similar notification when women visit and don’t receive medical services. Under Resolution No. 16-1252, failure to post such signs can result in fines of more than $20,000 a month--$500 for the first day of violation and $750 for each day thereafter.
“There is no abortion exception to the First Amendment,” said Mark Rienzi, lead counsel for Centro Tepeyac Women’s Center and a law professor at Catholic University of America’s Columbus School of Law. “The government cannot create special speech rules just because people want to talk about pregnancy choices. And it certainly cannot target pro-life speakers for special sign requirements and fines while leaving speech by abortion clinics entirely unregulated. This new regulation violates every core principle of free speech law.”
As currently worded, the law could also require maternity stores, sidewalk counselors, or anyone in a church that talks to pregnant women to “conspicuously post” signs that state that no licensed medical professional is on staff and that “the Montgomery County Health Officer encourages women who are or could be pregnant to consult a licensed health care provider.” The county council explicitly admitted that the policy’s intent is to regulate pro-life centers because the council disagrees with their past speech about abortion’s risks.
“The government’s enforcement of policies against pro-life pregnancy centers and its refusal to apply the same rules to abortion facilities is an unconstitutionally discriminatory practice,” said ADF Legal Counsel Casey Mattox. “These centers are honest, do not profit from their services, treat women with dignity, and offer them real choices. Planned Parenthood and its pro-abortion allies make millions performing abortions on women and girls in crisis, so they are undoubtedly only too happy to see the government engage in this unfair attack.”
Attorney Bob Michael and ADF-allied attorney John Garza are serving as co-counsel in the lawsuit Centro Tepeyac v. Montgomery County, which was filed with the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland.
In March, a separate lawsuit in Baltimore challenged a similar policy that forces pro-life centers to post signs on their doors stating that they don’t provide abortions or birth control referrals. The Greater Baltimore Center for Pregnancy Concerns faces a $150 fine per day for not posting the signs, which they argue are unconstitutional. The city places no sign requirements on Planned Parenthood and other abortion facilities regarding services they do not offer. Rienzi is co-counsel in that case.
ADF is a legal alliance of Christian attorneys and like-minded organizations defending the right of people to freely live out their faith. Launched in 1994, ADF employs a unique combination of strategy, training, funding, and litigation to protect and preserve religious liberty, the sanctity of life, marriage, and the family.