Court puts brakes on Maryland county law targeting crisis pregnancy centers
SILVER SPRING, Maryland, March 16, 2011 (LifeSiteNews.com) – A federal judge in Maryland has stopped Montgomery County officials from enforcing part a law that targeted crisis pregnancy centers.
U.S. District Judge Deborah K. Chasanow issued her injunction over concerns that part of the law violated the First Amendment free speech rights of pro-life pregnancy resource centers. The injunction will remain in place until all the legal issues are resolved in federal court.
Under the law, pro-life pregnancy resource centers must “conspicuously” post signage on waiting room walls in English and Spanish stating, “the Center does not have a licensed medical professional on staff.” The judge said that this part of the law appeared constitutional.
However, she took issue with a second part of the law, which required that the centers post signage saying, “the Montgomery County Health Officer encourages women who are or may be pregnant to consult with a licensed health care provider.”
Under Resolution No. 16-1252, failure to post such signs can result in crippling fines of more than $20,000 per month: $500 for the first day of violation, and $750 for each day thereafter.
Centro Tepayac, a pro-life pregnancy resource center in Silver Spring, filed the lawsuit against the county calling the legislation “politically motivated.” The center is represented by the Alliance Defense Fund, which has argued that the county law engaged in unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination, saying it was tailored to exclude pro-abortion pregnancy centers such as Planned Parenthood.
“There is no abortion exception to the First Amendment,” said Mark Rienzi, lead counsel for the Centro Tepeyac Women’s Center and a law professor at Catholic University of America’s Columbus School of Law. “The court was right to issue this order. The county has no business taking over the walls of pro-life pregnancy centers to tell women to go seek help elsewhere.”
The law regulates pro-life pregnancy centers as “limited service pregnancy resource centers” (LSPCS), defining them as any “organization, center, or individual” providing pregnancy-related services for a fee or even free that “does not have a licensed medical professional on Staff.” ADF has argued taht the definition is unconstitutionally vague, and that it could encompass maternity store employees, sidewalk counselors, and church members, who could then absurdly be required to “conspicuously post” signage.
Judge Chasanow noted that while the first part of the law appeared legitimate in its intention “to ensure that women did not forgo medical treatment that they would otherwise obtain after visiting an LSPRC,” she said the second part failed to show “a real and compelling government interest” by directing women elsewhere. She said the county likely would have accomplished the purpose of the law, “once women were aware that LSPRCs do not staff a medical professional.”
“Pregnancy centers, which offer real help and hope to women, shouldn’t be punished by political allies of the abortion industry,” said ADF Legal Counsel Matt Bowman. “Attacks on pregnancy centers are an ideologically motivated attempt to distract from the growing national scandals in the abortion industry. For years, abortionists have preyed on women and girls for profit. Now pro-abortion politicians are trying to give these women fewer choices.”
Bowman said Chasanow’s order was “a step in the right direction”, while all the other legal arguments are worked out in court.
The lawsuit is Centro Tepeyac v. Montgomery County.
The opinion can be read here.
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