City of Baltimore and Reproductive Rights Group to Appeal Decision on Pregnancy Crisis Centers

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The Center for Reproductive Rights and the City of Baltimore announced on Saturday that they will immediately appeal a court decision involving a legal challenge to a new city ordinance that demands truth in advertising from crisis pregnancy centers in Baltimore. 

The decision came in O’Brien v. Mayor and City Council of Baltimore, a suit that had been filed in March 2010 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland by the Archbishop of Baltimore, one of its parishes and the Greater Baltimore Center for Pregnancy Concerns, Inc., a crisis pregnancy center. 

They sued to overturn an ordinance passed by the City of Baltimore, the first of its kind in the country, requiring crisis pregnancy centers to post signs in their waiting rooms indicating that they do not provide or make referrals for abortion or comprehensive birth control services. The ordinance protects women from deceptive advertising and ensures that women seeking contraception or abortion are able to get those services promptly. Crisis pregnancy centers--non-medical organizations that counsel women against using abortion and birth control services--often advertise themselves as clinics that provide abortion or family planning in order to lure women to their facilities, only to provide misleading information and sometimes delay or provide erroneous information about teh results of pregnancy tests in an attempt to prevent women from getting early abortions.

As CRR notes, Baltimore passed the ordinance following two reports that documented a pattern of deceptive practices by limited-service pregnancy centers. 

In 2006, for example, U.S. Representative Henry Waxman (D-CA) released a study finding that crisis pregnancy centers often use delay tactics to stall women from getting abortion or birth control services while subjecting them to anti-abortion and anti-contraception propaganda. In addition, they often mislead women, providing false factual information about contraception and the mechanics of an abortion procedure as well as its risks.  Those findings were then confirmed in the 2008 report which specifically looked at the practices of such facilities in Maryland. The City Council also heard testimony from numerous women complaining about deceptive practices used by the centers.

In their suit, the complainants argued that the ordinance violates crisis pregnancy centers' rights to freedom of speech and religion.  The district court held that the Archbishop of Baltimore and St. Brigid’s Roman Catholic Congregation did not have standing to challenge the ordinance. Nonetheless it also ruled that the ordinance violates the First Amendment rights of the Greater Baltimore Center for Pregnancy Concerns.

The City of Baltimore and the Center will appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.

"We plan to immediately appeal today's court's decision and we are confident we will prevail," said Stephanie Toti, senior staff attorney at the Center for Reproductive Rights. "Baltimore’s ordinance is a common sense measure designed to protect consumers from a long-standing and documented pattern of deceptive practices by crisis pregnancy centers.”

Meanwhile, concern about crisis pregnancy centers is growing. As Amie reported earlier this month, the state of Washington is considering two bills with the potential to change the way "crisis pregnancy centers" are regulated. The Limited Service Pregnancy Center Accountability Act (SB 5274/HB 1366) targets "Limited Service Pregnancy Centers (LSPCs)" (also known as crisis pregnancy centers) for their historically deceitful practices in the state.


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