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Wednesday, May 22, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Clinic With Anti-Abortion Bend Can Enjoin Sign Law

(CN) - A pregnancy clinic that will not discuss abortion options with patients won a temporary injunction against a law in Montgomery County, Md., that would require it to post signs that encourage pregnant women to consult with licensed medical professionals.

The ruling, issued Tuesday, follows the lead of another federal judge in Maryland who said that a similar ordinance in Baltimore contained a notice requirement that amounted to unconstitutional "compelled speech."

Baltimore's law, which passed in December 2009, required clinics to post conspicuous signs if they will not help patients get abortions or birth control.

Passed just two months later, Montgomery County law has two provisions. One requires implicated clinics to post signs stating that they do not staff licensed medical professionals. The second provision calls for signs that state: "The Montgomery County Health Officer encourages women who are or may be pregnant to consult with a licensed health care provider."

U.S. District Judge Deborah Chasanow ruled Tuesday that Centro Tepeyac was entitled to an injunction against the sign requirement that advocates professional consultations. The ruling states that the nonprofit clinic "made a clear showing that it is likely to succeed on one part of its First Amendment claim."

While there is a compelling public interest in assuring that Centro Tepeyac patients understand that they are not being seen by licensed medical professionals, a second sign that encourages women to see such professionals may be redundant.

"In addition, several options less restrictive than compelled speech could be used to encourage pregnant women to see a licensed medical professional," Chasanow wrote. "For example, defendants could post notices encouraging women to see a doctor in county facilities or launch a public awareness campaign."

The judge declined to grant the county's motion to dismiss Centro Tepeyac's claims under the First and 14th Amendment, but she did dismiss the Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services and Montgomery County Attorney Marc Hansen as defendants. She also declined to let the remaining defendants, Montgomery County and its council, strike footnotes from Centro Tepeyac's opposition to the motion to dismiss.

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