Monday, January 31, 2011

Restrictions on Pregnancy Centers Found Unconstitutional

In a decision that could have significant impact on legislation here in Washington State, a federal judge in Maryland struck down a law requiring pregnancy resource centers in Baltimore to post notification that they will not help you obtain an abortion.

The Baltimore ordinance, enacted December 4, 2009, states:

A limited-service pregnancy center must provide its clients and potential clients with a disclaimer substantially to the effect that the center does not provide or make referral for abortion or birth-control related services

The judge held that this violates their freedom of speech because it mandates the inclusion of a government message concurrent, and intertwined with, [their] delivery of fully protected speech. (pg 19-20).

The bill that is currently being considered in Washington state is much more onerous than the law that was struck down in Baltimore.

In the case of HB 1366 and SB 5274, pregnancy resource centers are required to include a disclaimer that says the centers do not provide abortions or “comprehensive birth control information” and do they provide referrals to those who do, nor do they provide medical care for pregnant women. That disclaimer, which is demonstrably false for the dozens of medical clinics in Washington, must be included not only on the front door of the clinic in 30 point font, but also on every piece of written literature the center creates that advertises their services.

If Baltimore’s regulation is improper because it mandates government speech concurrent with otherwise protected speech, it is quite likely that Washington’s bill would also be struck down.

This decision also greatly improves the chances that, if passed, an injunction would prevent the bill from ever being enacted.

While many have been making the argument that these bills are unconstitutional, this decision provides considerable strength to that argument. What the legislature will do with this information remains to be seen. But during a session in which they are trying to close a budget deficit approaching $5 billion, hopefully they will decide there are better uses for taxpayer dollars than defending a bill they knew in advance was unconstitutional.

There is a public hearing on this bill this Wednesday, February 2nd, at 8 am in the Cherberg building on the capital campus. You are urged to attend.

If you cannot attend, please contact your legislators through the legislative hotline at 1-800-562-6000 and ask them to oppose HB 1366 and SB 5274.

To read the complete text of this decision, please click here.

To support our efforts to protect the pregnancy centers, please click here.

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