Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Baltimore Targets Catholic Pro-life Centers - Archdiocese Sues

The Archdiocese of Baltimore filed a federal lawsuit against the city Monday, saying a first-in-the-nation ordinance regulating pregnancy counseling centers violates the rights of church members to freedom of speech and religion.

UPDATE 4/2/10: Austin Texas considers same discriminatory signage

-- From "Archdiocese sues city over pregnancy counseling notice" By Brent Jones, Baltimore Sun 3/30/10

Archbishop Edwin F. O'Brien said the law, which took effect in January, "is hurting the good people volunteering and giving so much of their resources to come to the help of pregnant women." It requires the centers, some of which are supported by the Catholic Church, to post signs stating that they do not refer women for abortion or birth control.

But proponents - including Mayor Stephanie C. Rawlings-Blake, who sponsored the bill last year as president of the City Council - have described the requirement as a matter of public health. A spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood of Maryland, which has accused the centers of giving women misleading information about the risks of abortion and birth control, called the law "just responsible policy."

Officials at the counseling centers say staff members provide accurate information. Lawyers for the archdiocese, who filed the suit in the U.S. District Court in Baltimore, say the ordinance unfairly targets four centers that provide needed support and assistance to women and children.

Mark Graber, professor of law and government at the University of Maryland School of Law, said the law appears to favor the city. He said the Supreme Court has made it clear that advertising does not have the same protections as political speech.

Thomas J. Schetelich, chairman of the board for the Center for Pregnancy Concerns, said that the ordinance singles out the Catholic Church for its anti-abortion stance. The nonprofit, anti-abortion organization receives donations from religious groups supporting women who plan to take their pregnancies to term and operates three of the four local centers.

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