A pro-life pregnancy center won a significant victory for free speech last week in federal court. While the City of Baltimore, Maryland, sought to compel the Greater Baltimore Center for Pregnancy Concerns to post government-ordered messages on abortion, the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals found that the city was out of line under the First Amendment.
In its ruling, authored by Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson III, the court states, “The compelled speech at issue here raises particularly troubling First Amendment concerns. At bottom, the disclaimer portrays abortion as one among a menu of morally equivalent choices. While that may be the City’s view, it is not the Center’s. The message conveyed is antithetical to the very moral, religious, and ideological reasons the Center exists.”
Highlighting the intensity of the abortion debate, the court warns against state agents using government powers as weapons targeted at ideological opponents. It concludes, “It may be too much to hope that despite their disagreement, pro-choice and pro-life advocates can respect each other’s dedication and principle. But, at least in this case… it is not too much to ask that they lay down the arms of compelled speech and wield only the tools of persuasion. The First Amendment requires it.”
Carol Crews, the pregnancy center's executive director, welcomed the ruling. "We are committed to serving women in need in a way that respects their choices, comforts them in a difficult time and is in line with our mission. This court ruling means that we can do our job and the government can't tell us what to say or how to say it," she said.
By Aaron Mercer, Vice President of Government Relations
Published: January 12, 2018