Fourth Circuit Reconsiders Baltimore’s Truth In Advertising Ordinance Targeting Crisis Pregnancy Centers

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Fourth Circuit Reconsiders Baltimore’s Truth In Advertising Ordinance Targeting Crisis Pregnancy Centers

Jessica Mason Pieklo

Lawyers for the Center for Reproductive Rights and the City of Baltimore defended an ordinace that requires crisis pregnancy centers disclose they are not health clinics.

Lawyers for the City of Baltimore were in front of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals this week defending an ordinance that requires crisis pregnancy centers to post “truth in advertising” signs warning the centers do not provide or make referrals for abortion or comprehensive birth control services.

CPCs frequently advertise themselves as clinics that provide a full range of reproductive health services, but in practice 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.

“The necessity of this consumer protection ordinance was demonstrated by serious and compelling public testimony and evidence of deception by CPCs in their offers of services. For example, CPCs in Baltimore advertise that they offer, ‘abortion and morning after pills’ when they do not provide or refer for those services,” said Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake. “Women and girls seeking pregnancy and contraception services should be allowed to make informed choices about where to go.  Having accurate information about what services a center offers is key.”

Not surprisingly, almost as soon as the ordinance was passed the CPC’s sued, arguing the requirement violates their free speech rights. The Center for Reproductive Rights joined the City of Baltimore to defend 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. By granting a new hearing in the case, the full appeals court voided a June 2012 decision from a divided panel of judges striking down the ordinance, a decision one judge described as “indefensible” in his dissent

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“We appreciate that the en banc court was willing to consider this case and are hopeful that Baltimore’s consumer protection measure will be upheld,” stated Suzanne Sangree, the Chief Solicitor for Baltimore City who argued the case.

A decision from the Fourth Circuit is not expected for several months.