The Center for Reproductive Rights has joined the City of Baltimore to defend a first-in-the-nation ordinance that demands truth in advertising from limited-service pregnancy centers. Those centers, also known as crisis pregnancy centers, are non-medical facilities that counsel pregnant women against using abortion and birth control services. Often, they advertise themselves as abortion or family planning clinics to lure women seeking those services to their facilities.
The Baltimore ordinance requires the pregnancy centers to post signs in their waiting rooms indicating that they do not provide or make referral for abortion or comprehensive birth control services. In March, the Archbishop of Baltimore, together with one of its parishes and the Greater Baltimore Center for Pregnancy Concerns, Inc., filed a federal lawsuit against Baltimore City, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, the Acting Health Commissioner and Baltimore City Health Department, seeking to invalidate the ordinance. The Center for Reproductive Rights, a longtime advocate for reproductive health and rights, will be lending its expertise to the City.
Today, the City asked the court to dismiss the case, arguing that the Archbishop's claims against the ordinance are not supported by the facts or the law. The ordinance protects women from deceptive advertising and ensures that women seeking birth control or abortion services have prompt access to those services.
"These facilities have a long documented history of misleading and manipulating women seeking abortion or contraceptive services. It's about time that they were required to tell women the truth," said Stephanie Toti, staff attorney at the Center for Reproductive Rights.
The City passed the ordinance following 2006 and 2008 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.