A Major Pro-Life Victory

In Friday, January 28, a Federal District Court Judge in Maryland issued a decision that is a major victory for pro-lifers and for free speech rights.

The case involved an ordinance passed by the City of Baltimore that was aimed at silencing and, ultimately, closing down pro-life pregnancy support centers.  The basic structure of the Baltimore law was to require pregnancy centers to post signs proclaiming that they did not make referrals for abortion or contraception.  The centers, backed by the Archdiocese of Baltimore, fought back, arguing that this requirement violated their free speech rights under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.

In the ruling, the District Court completely agreed with the pregnancy centers and issued a permanent injunction, barring any enforcement of the law.  The decision made some important points about these kinds of laws:

  • Compelled Speech — At the heart of the right to free speech is the right to be free of compulsion to say things that are contrary to your beliefs.  This means that the government cannot force you to say things because they disagree with your position on issues.  The court found that the Baltimore law violated this basic principle of Constitutional Law, because it forced the pregnancy centers, under pain of fines, to say things about abortion and contraception that they would not otherwise say.
  • Lack of Viewpoint Neutrality — Also central to the First Amendment is the idea that the government may not use its power to take sides in a debate between people who disagree, favoring one side over the other by imposing penalties on the “disfavored” position.  The court also held that the Baltimore law failed this test, because the sign requirement was imposed only on those centers that opposed abortion.
  • Bogus Factual Premise — To enact a law that infringes upon someone’s First Amendment rights, the government must show that there is a compelling state interest.  The alleged interest behind these laws is the notion, promoted by abortion proponents, that pregnancy centers routinely lie and distort facts.  The court found that the Baltimore law failed this test too, because the pro-abortion side had failed to present any convincing evidence of systematic deceptive practices that could not be addressed by other means (e.g., false advertising laws).
  • This court victory is not just significant for Baltimore, but for all pro-lifers across the nation, particularly here in New York.  That Baltimore law was part of a nation-wide strategy by pro-abortion forces and the abortion industry.  We are currently facing a similar bill here in the New York City Council, Intro 371.

    The essential structure and premise of New York’s Intro 371 is identical to the Baltimore law:  sign and disclaimer requirements compelling speech by pregnancy centers that do not promote abortion, a lack of viewpoint neutrality that is designed to “disfavor” only those centers that do not promote abortion, and a complete lack of any proof that there is a pattern of systematic — or any — deception being practiced by these centers here in New York.

    And so, the Federal District Court has posed a serious question to the New York City Council:  Will you persist in passing a law that you now know to be unconstitutional?

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