Last Wednesday, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals (PDF) upheld a district court decision finding that a Baltimore ordinance requiring limited service pregnancy centers, also known as crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs), to post completely factual information stating that they “do not provide or make referrals for abortion or birth control services” violated the CPCs’ right to free speech.
According to the Fourth Circuit, the notice would have been compelled speech that required CPCs “to participate in the City’s effort to tell pregnant women that abortions are available elsewhere as a morally acceptable alternative, contrary to the moral and religious beliefs of the Pregnancy Center.” The majority opinion privileges the beliefs of those who oppose abortion over the rights of women to get accurate information by declaring that a mere factual statement that CPCs do not provide or make referrals for abortion or contraceptive services is also a moral statement and endorsement of the opinion that abortions and contraception should be available.
This is false logic. A factual statement is not an endorsement and, in and of itself, does not carry a moral valence. After all, nothing is stopping a CPC from posting a sign stating that it does not endorse abortions or contraception next to the required notice. This sign could even be five times the size of the notice so that there wouldn’t be any confusion regarding the CPC’s moral position.
But, of course, they don’t want to do that since many of them operate by deliberating deceiving women (PDF) into believing that they do, in fact, offer abortions and comprehensive family planning services. Many CPCs want women to believe that they will get dispassionate advice and comprehensive services, when, in fact, they only offer anti-abortion rhetoric, a pregnancy test that could be obtained at any pharmacy and possibly an ultrasound that would likely have to be repeated, regardless of whether the woman chooses to have an abortion or not.
This is reprehensible and the Baltimore City Council rightly acted to curb such practices by requiring a simple, factual notice. It seems absurd that doctors can be forced to provide medically inaccurate information to women seeking abortions but CPCs can’t be required to post completely accurate information regarding the services they provide. Yet, this is the world we live in – one in which many seem to forget that women have a constitutionally protected right to abortions, and, for that matter, contraception.
Notably, the district court and the Fourth Circuit, in upholding the district court’s decision, “flouted foundational legal principles,” leading the dissenting judge to state that the proceedings “followed a course more fitting a kangaroo court than a court of the United States.” After reading the opinion, I’m inclined to agree—it looked a lot like a kangaroo court to me.