Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore expressed appreciation after a federal court said Maryland pregnancy centers should not have to post signs they claimed were unnecessary and discriminatory.
“At a time when religious freedom is being challenged on many fronts, this ruling represents a major victory for the First Amendment and for those people who seek to live their lives and their faith according to it,” Archbishop Lori said in his response to the decision.
The archbishop, who also heads the U.S. bishops' religious freedom committee, said the centers had been “targeted for their pro-life views.” He praised the judges for striking down the “onerous, discriminatory laws” which “have no place in a nation founded on freedom.”
In two June 27 rulings, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit upheld lower court decisions against laws regulating pregnancy centers in Baltimore and Montgomery County.
Centro Tepeyac said its free speech rights were violated by the requirement to post signs stating: “The Center does not have a licensed medical professional on staff” and the “Montgomery County Health Officer encourages women who are or may be pregnant to consult with a licensed health care provider.”
On similar grounds, the Greater Baltimore Center for Pregnancy Concerns challenged the rule under which any “limited-service pregnancy center” would have to inform all clients “that the center does not provide or make referral for abortion or birth-control services.”
In the Montgomery County case, two of the three judges found that the government was forcing the pregnancy center to suggest to clients “that the center is not to be trusted and that a pregnancy center’s services … will usually be inferior to those offered by medical professionals.”
“Montgomery County is entitled to believe that pregnancy is first and foremost a medical condition,” Judge Paul Niemeyer wrote in an opinion joined by Judge Steven Agee, “but it may not compel unwilling speakers to express that view.”
In the Baltimore case, Judge Niemeyer was joined by Judge Agee in finding the compulsion of speech to be unconstitutional, “in violation of the First Amendment presumption that 'speakers, not the government, know best both what they want to say and how to say it.'”
Local officials say the case could be appealed to the Supreme Court. Critics of the pregnancy centers have traditionally taken issue with their frequent religious associations, as well as their attempts to warn women about the physical, emotional and personal consequences of abortion.