Yesterday, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit was the first circuit court to rule on government mandates requiring pregnancy centers to post disclaimers and disclosures, declaring that such mandates violate freedom of speech, a constitutional right.
“The Fourth Circuit Court’s decision is a victory for Centro Tepeyac and other Heartbeat International affiliated pregnancy help centers that are rescuing children who were once at risk of abortion by providing practical help and emotional support to mothers who often have been abandoned and abused,” said Heartbeat International President Peggy Hartshorn, Ph.D. “This decision upholding our freedom of speech affirms the life-saving work of pregnancy centers and the importance of providing alternatives to abortion.”
The first case ruled upon by the court was Centro Tepeyac v. Montgomery County; Montgomery County Council, et al, No. 11-1314 (4th Cir. 6/27/2012) in which the county passed a resolution requiring limited service pregnancy centers to display a sign bearing two statements: “The Center does not have a licensed medical professional on staff. Montgomery County Health Officer encourages women who are or may be pregnant to consult with a licensed health care provider.”
The second case, Greater Baltimore Center for Pregnancy Concerns et al v. Mayor and City Council of Baltimore, et al, No. 11-1111 (4th Cir. 6/27/2012) originated from Baltimore, which involved a city ordinance mandating pregnancy help organizations to post signage in two languages that “the center does not perform or refer for abortions or birth control services.”
The Fourth Circuit Court slapped down both government mandates as violations of free speech, applying strict scrutiny to its analysis of both laws.
The Court applied the same reasoning to both laws:
- that the pregnancy centers are not engaged in commercial speech;
- that the Court was obligated to apply strict scrutiny in its review of such ordinances and resolutions;
- the government did not demonstrate a compelling interest necessitating the laws; and
- that both laws violated First Amendment.
These rulings signal a strong victory for pregnancy help organizations, not only in Maryland, but across the country, as challenges are raised to similar attempts in other jurisdictions.