March 26, 2012 — On Friday, a three-judge panel of a federal appeals court heard arguments on the constitutionality of ordinances in two Maryland communities that require crisis pregnancy centers to post signs stating that they do not offer medical care, the AP/Baltimore Sun reports. The two local governments -- Baltimore and Montgomery County -- contend that the signs are necessary because the clinics distribute inaccurate information about abortion and birth control (AP/Baltimore Sun, 3/23).
The Baltimore ordinance (FID 09-0406) would require "limited-service pregnancy centers" to post signs in English and Spanish stating what services they provide -- such as maternity and infant supplies, prenatal care and adoption referrals -- and what they do not offer, such as abortion care and contraceptive services. Centers that fail to comply within 10 days of being cited by city inspectors could be fined $150 per day. U.S. District Judge Marvin Garbis in January 2011 ruled that the Baltimore ordinance violates the Freedom of Speech Clause of the Constitution and cannot be enforced (Women's Health Policy Report, 1/31/11).
Another judge placed most of the Montgomery County ordinance on hold while a lawsuit filed by Centro Tepeyac Women's Center makes its way through the court system. Clifford Royalty, an attorney for the county, argued on Friday that CPCs are dispensing medical advice without licenses and that the government has an interest in stopping such violations.
Mark Rienzi, an attorney for Centro Tepeyac, said there is no proof that anyone has been harmed by the center or that "a single pregnant woman ... believed Centro Tepeyac was a medical clinic."
Rienzi compared the clinic's work to discussions about the health effects of smoking, which are not restricted to health care providers. Judge Paul Niemeyer appeared to find merit in the argument, saying, "There's a distinction between practicing medicine and talking about it."
The court typically takes several weeks to issue a ruling (AP/Baltimore Sun, 3/23).
Repro Health Watch — an exciting new edition of the Women’s Health Policy Report — compiles and distributes media coverage of proposed and enacted state laws and ballot initiatives affecting women's access to comprehensive reproductive health care, as well as litigation in response to those provisions.