Last Thursday, the full Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments in two cases concerning laws that would require Crisis Pregnancy Centers (CPC) to disclose factual information about the services they offer.
Earlier this year, a divided three judge panel struck down a law in Baltimore, Maryland that required CPCs to post disclaimers in waiting rooms stating that they do not provide or make referrals for abortion or birth control services and a law in Montgomery County, Maryland that required CPCs to disclose that they do not have licensed medical professionals on staff and that the county encourages women who may be pregnant to consult with licensed medical personnel. Judge Robert King dissented in both cases.
In the Baltimore case, the Fourth Circuit found that Baltimore’s regulation “compelled” CPCs to “speak” through waiting-room signs stating that they do not provide or make referrals for abortion or birth control. In the Montgomery County case, the Fourth Circuit likewise held that requiring CPCs to disclose whether they employ licensed medical personnel compels speech because it forces CPCs to express the view that pregnancy is primarily a medical condition, a view with which CPCs may disagree.
These ordinances were adopted because CPCs regularly engage in deceptive practices that threaten women’s health. By doing things like advertising under “Abortion Services” they mislead women into believe that they, in fact, offer those services. And the deception and lies don’t end once a woman walks in the door. In Baltimore, for example, some CPCs falsely told women they could wait to make a decision about what to do because “Abortion is legal through all nine months of pregnancy.”
This behavior is reprehensible and should not be tolerated. Anti-abortion advocates, no matter how sincere their beliefs, should not be allowed to use lies to try to convince women not to have an abortion or to delay women so that they by the time they see an actual abortion provider, it is too late to obtain an abortion or the health risks and costs of the abortion have increased significantly. Yet, in striking down the laws, the three-judge panel privileged dishonest anti-abortion speech over a woman’s right to accurate and factual information about her health and the services she may receive.
The full Fourth Circuit should rectify this error and uphold these laws which seek to protect women’s health by arming them with the truth about the services CPCs provide.