Baltimore Abortion Ordinance Declared Unconstitutional – How Did We Get Here and Why?

This post was authored by Jon Stefanuca and posted to The Eye Opener on February 5th, 2011.

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Pro-Life and Pro-Choice Advocates

Last April, we posted a blog regarding a Baltimore City ordinance, which required local crisis pregnancy centers to post signs in their clinics disclosing that they did not offer abortion or birth control services if, they in fact, did not offer such services. Because of this requirement, many clinics chose to post separate notices informing the public about clinics that offered abortion services. Consequently, the Archdiocese of Baltimore, filed a lawsuit in the Federal District Court, seeking to have the ordinance declared unconstitutional.  One of its arguments was that the City should be prohibited from compelling speech by requiring the clinics to post signs.

On January 28th, 2011, District Court Judge, Marvin Garbis, ruled that the ordinance violates the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and, as such, is unenforceable. In his opinion, Judge Garbis wrote: “Whether a provider of pregnancy-related services is ‘pro-life’ or ‘prochoice,’ it is for the provider — not the Government — to decide when and how to discuss abortion and birth-control methods.” According to the opinion, “[t]he Government cannot, consistent with the First Amendment, require a ‘pro-life’ pregnancy-related service center to post a sign as would be required by the Ordinance.”

The dynamic of this litigation is fascinating, revealing nonsensical and unpredictable aspects of the abortion debate.  One could argue that the original passing of the ordinance was fueled by an underlying “pro-life” attitude.  After all, why would the City require clinics that don’t offer abortion services to publically state that they don’t offer abortion services? My personal opinion is two-fold: 1) to discourage individuals in need of abortion services from seeking abortion services, and 2) to reveal to the public the number of clinics that don’t offer abortion services in order to paint a picture that the public is generally pro-life (this is particularly true because the ordinance did not require clinics offering abortion services to post notices that they offered such services).

Interestingly, the ordinance backfired. Some of the clinics required to disclose that they did not offer abortion services chose to inform the public about other clinics where abortion services are available. There is nothing wrong with that, right? Well, apparently the Archdiocese did not think so, and, in my personal opinion, here is the real reason why: As soon as it became apparent that many of the clinics could simply choose to post notices about other clinics, which offered abortion services, it also became apparent that the ordinance was de facto prompting free advertising for abortion services all over the city.

I can’t imagine that the Archdiocese was too thrilled about that. Hence, the litigation ensued and the opponents of the ordinance prevailed on an argument, which is commonly and usually made by the “pro-choice” side of the abortion debate. At the heart of Judge Garbis’ opinion is the notion that the government should not legislate morality or religion. On January 28th, the Archdiocese and other “pro-life” groups prevailed on an argument, which has undermined and discredited the “pro-life” position for decades. How ironic!

Have you have been following this litigation in Baltimore City? What are your thoughts? Was Baltimore’s ordinance misguided or spot-on? Will Judge Garbis’ decision be reversed or upheld on appeal?

Photo from foxnews.com

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One Response to “Baltimore Abortion Ordinance Declared Unconstitutional – How Did We Get Here and Why?”

  1. TheresaNo Gravatar says:

    Mr. Stefanuca,

    It is interesting how the public thinks. Not all hospitals offer labor and delivery, but that does not stop young pregnant women from showing up at the doorstep for prenatal care or delivery services assuming that all hospitals have the capability. Same holds true for inpatient pediatrics and open heart surgery! People think that all hospitals offer all services….not so. I can see how this mentality would translate to womens’ health clinics. Just because they offer contraceptive services or family planning, one could assume that they would offer abortion services. In any of these cases, it leads to a “waste of time” and angry patients who wish that they would have known ahead of time; and consider the impact on the various providers who are already “max’d out” in terms of patient care. The initial intent of the legislation may have been purely innocent and an effort to save time and energy. Whatever the case, it sure stirred up a bee’s nest. I do not believe that the “posted written notification” should be government-mandated, but I do think that facilities should be able to post information related to such services as a service to those patients entering their clinics.

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