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01.31.11 - (PRESS RELEASE) The Center for Reproductive Rights and the City of Baltimore will be immediately appealing a court decision issued today involving a legal challenge to a new city ordinance that demands truth in advertising from crisis pregnancy centers in Baltimore. Although the district court held that the Archbishop of Baltimore and St. Brigid’s Roman Catholic Congregation did not have standing to challenge the ordinance, it also ruled that the ordinance violates the First Amendment rights of the Greater Baltimore Center for Pregnancy Concerns. The ordinance, the first of its kind in the country, requires 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 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.”
In March 2010, the Archbishop of Baltimore, one of its parishes and the Greater Baltimore Center for Pregnancy Concerns, Inc. filed suit against the ordinance, charging that it violates crisis pregnancy centers' rights to freedom of speech and religion. The Center, a longtime advocate for reproductive health and rights, joined the City of Baltimore to defend the ordinance in June. 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.
Baltimore passed the ordinance following two reports that documented a pattern of deceptive practices by limited-service pregnancy centers. In 2006, 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.
O’Brien v. Mayor and City Council of Baltimore was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland in Baltimore.