Arch­dio­cese sues city on abor­tion sign law

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY JU­LIA DUIN

The Arch­dio­cese of Bal­ti­more has filed a law­suit on be­half of the coun­try’s old­est cri­sis preg­nancy cen­ter, claim­ing the city has en­acted a bi­ased or­di­nance that dis­crim­i­nates against pro-life or­ga­ni­za­tions.

In a law­suit filed two weeks ago in fed­eral court, the arch­dio­cese took on a new city or­di­nance — which had heavy back­ing from pro-choice and fem­i­nist groups — that re­quires cri­sis preg­nancy cen­ters (CPCs) to post prom­i­nent signs stat­ing they do not dis­pense con­tra­cep­tion nor per­form abor­tions.

Ac­cord­ing to the arch­dio­cese, it is the first such or­di­nance in the coun­try.

The arch­dio­cese do­nates space to the in­de­pen­dently owned Greater Bal­ti­more Cen­ter for Preg­nancy Con­cerns at St. Brigid’s Catholic Church on East Av­enue.

As the coun­try’s old­est CPC founded in 1980, the Greater Bal­ti­more Cen­ter has two other lo­ca­tions: its main offices at 2418 St. Paul St. down­town and a third at St. Rita’s Church in Bal­ti­more County, which is not af­fected by the or­di­nance. Ac­cord­ing to arch­dioce­san spokesman Sean Caine, the cen­ter’s three lo­ca­tions see a com­bined 1,200 vis­i­tors a year, in ad­di­tion to about 8,000 peo­ple an­nu­ally via a hot line.

The or­di­nance was in­tro­duced in 2009 by then-City Coun­cil Pres­i­dent Stephanie Rawl­ingsBlake who has since be­come the mayor of Bal­ti­more and is one of the de­fen­dants named in the law­suit. She was also the hon­ored guest at Planned Par­ent­hood of Mary­land’s gala fundraiser April 8 at the Tre­mont Grand Ho­tel in Bal­ti­more.

The or­di­nance re­quires that a “lim­ited-ser­vice preg­nancy cen­ter” posts an eas­ily read­able sign in English and Span­ish stat­ing that the cen­ter does not of­fer abor­tion and birth con­trol ser­vices, nor does it pro­vide re­fer­rals.

Cen­ters that fail to com­ply within 10 days of be­ing cited could be fined up to $150 per diem.

The arch­dio­cese calls the or­di­nance a vi­o­la­tion of free speech and ex­er­cise of re­li­gion and calls the lan­guage on the sign a “gov­ern­ment-man­dated dis­claimer.” The law­suit claims that pro-life groups are tar­geted by this or­di­nance which “tar­gets for speech reg­u­la­tion only one side of a con­tentious pub­lic, po­lit­i­cal de­bate.”

Mary­land has 40 to 50 CPCs, four of which are af­fected by the Bal­ti­more or­di­nance.

“Fil­ing a fed­eral law­suit against the city is a big step and we wish the city had not put us in this po­si­tion,” Mr. Caine said. “How­ever, the prin­ci­ples at is­sue are so im­por­tant and the or­di­nance so clearly vi­o­lates the law that we felt we needed to file the law­suit. We be­lieve the or­di­nance tar­gets th­ese cen­ters be­cause of their pro-life mis­sion.”

The arch­dio­cese also as­serts the signs are forc­ing the CPCs to lie. The CPCs do pro­vide birth con­trol — in a fash­ion — it said in the law­suit, in terms of ab­sti­nence and nat­u­ral fam­ily plan­ning (NFP), a sys­tem by which cou­ples time their sex­ual in­ti­macy ac­cord­ing to a woman’s monthly cy­cle. It quotes a fed­eral Depart­ment of Health and Hu­man Ser­vices Web site as as­sert­ing that NFP and ab­sti­nence both con­sti­tute birth con­trol.

How­ever, city so­lic­i­tor Ge­orge Nil­son said the or­di­nance is con­sti­tu­tional.

“I think we will win,” he said, “be­cause we have not done any­thing by pass­ing this or­di­nance that vi­o­lates any pro­vi­sion of the Con­sti­tu­tion. We’d been ex­pect­ing we’d get sued at some point.

“We’re mak­ing cer­tain preg­nancy cen­ters — ones that don’t of­fer a full range of ser­vices and re­fer­rals — make a fac­tual dis­clo­sure. It’s a dis­clo­sure many, if not all, preg­nancy cen­ters post on their Web sites. We are say­ing that same ac­cu­rate in­for­ma­tion posted on your Web site needs to be posted at your fa­cil­i­ties.”

The Greater Bal­ti­more Cen­ter CPC does post the fol­low­ing state­ment on its cpc­forhelp.org site: “We do not per­form or re­fer for abor­tions be­cause of the phys­i­cal and emo­tional risks in­volved.”

The case has been as­signed to U.S. District Judge Marvin J. Gar­bis.

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