(PRESS RELEASE) Today the City of Baltimore, with its co-counsel the Center for Reproductive Rights, asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit to protect Baltimore residents by allowing the enforcement of a local consumer protection ordinance requiring limited-service pregnancy centers – also known as crisis pregnancy centers, or CPCs – to provide accurate and non-deceptive information about their services.
The appeal challenges a recent district court ruling blocking the enforcement of the ordinance against the Greater Baltimore Center for Pregnancy Concerns. Specifically, the federal district court denied the City’s request for summary judgment in the case, while granting the CPC’s request for summary judgement.
The ordinance requires Baltimore pregnancy centers to post signs in their waiting rooms indicating that they do not provide or make referrals for abortion or most forms of birth control. By mutual agreement between the parties, the ordinance was put on hold as the case made its way through the courts. Although the district court ruled in favor of the Greater Baltimore Center for Pregnancy Concerns and held that the center was not required to post the mandatory disclosure, other CPCs in Baltimore must now comply with the disclosure requirement.
“Women seeking reproductive health care need accurate information, not deception and lies,” said Suzanne Sangree, lead counsel for the City of Baltimore.
“Crisis pregnancy centers in Baltimore and across the nation have a long record of using dishonest tactics to interfere with women’s access to abortion and contraception,” said co-counsel Stephanie Toti, senior counsel at the Center for Reproductive Rights. “We continue to stand with the City of Baltimore in defense of this common sense measure.”
The case involves a challenge to a sensible measure designed to protect consumers from deceptive practices of crisis pregnancy centers. The evidence demonstrates that CPCs frequently use misleading advertising and marketing strategies to lure women seeking abortions to their facilities under false pretenses. Advertisements often suggest that CPCs provide a full range of reproductive health services, but in practice these organizations seek to dissuade women from obtaining abortion and birth control services. Most do not even have medical personnel on site.
The ordinance, which was introduced by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake while she was President of the Baltimore City Council, became the first in the nation to require pregnancy centers to disclose that they neither refer for, nor offer abortion services or comprehensive birth control. Other jurisdictions, including the State of California, have enacted similar measures to the curb the deceptive practices of these centers. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit recently denied a request to block the California law.
The Center for Reproductive Rights joined the City of Baltimore to defend the ordinance in June 2010 against a lawsuit filed by the Greater Baltimore Center for Pregnancy Concerns seeking to block enforcement of the ordinance. In January 2011, the district court granted summary judgment in favor of the CPC before the City was even able to submit evidence in support of its case, and the City and the Center immediately appealed the ruling to the 4th Circuit. Although a divided appellate panel upheld the lower court’s decision to block the ordinance in June 2012, the en banc court reversed it in July 2013, remanding the case back to the district court for further proceedings. The district court issued the ruling giving rise to today’s appeal last month.