The full Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals has agreed to review a challenge to Baltimore’s truth-in-advertising ordinance that requires crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) to post signs in their waiting rooms indicating they do not provide or make referrals for abortion or comprehensive birth control services.
The Baltimore ordinance is the first of its kind and strikes at the heart of the deception necessary to keep CPC’s in operation. The order voids a June decision from a divided panel of judges that struck the ordinance as a violation of CPC speech rights, a decision one judge described as “indefensible” in his dissent.
A new hearing on the challenge will be held on December 6th.
CPCs frequently advertise themselves as clinics that provide a full range of reproductive health services. In reality though CPC’s are non-medical organizations that dissuade women from obtaining abortion and birth control services. In addition to deceptive advertising, some centers provide factually inaccurate information to patients and disregard patient confidentiality. Anti-choice activists promote CPC’s as “alternatives” to comprehensive women’s health clinics despite the fact that they are anything but.
The Center for Reproductive Rights joined the City of Baltimore to defend the ordinance in June 2010 against a lawsuit filed by the Archbishop of Baltimore, a local parish, and 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 and its allies 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 Fourth Circuit.
“We applaud the Fourth Circuit for reconsidering this important case and we will continue to fight alongside the City of Baltimore in its efforts to protect residents from the deceptive business practices of so-called crisis pregnancy centers,” said Stephanie Toti, senior staff attorney at the Center for Reproductive Rights. “The women of Baltimore deserve timely access to comprehensive reproductive health care services, not lies and delay tactics.”
Baltimore was the first city in the nation to pass legislation requiring these centers to disclose that they neither refer nor offer abortion services. Others cities including Austin, TX, New York City, and San Francisco have since introduced similar measures to curb the deceptive practices of these centers.
Photo from steakpinball via flickr.