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Law for Abortion Notices Struck Down in Baltimore

(CN) - A Maryland federal judge issued a permanent injunction against a Baltimore law that requires pro-life counseling centers to post conspicuous signs advising that they will not help patients get abortions or birth control.

"Whether a provider of pregnancy-related services is 'pro-life' or 'pro-choice,' it is for the provider - not the government - to decide when and how to discuss abortion and birth-control methods," U.S. District Judge Marvin Garbis ruled on Friday. "The 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."

Archbishop of Baltimore Edwin F. O'Brien, St. Brigid's Roman Catholic Church and the Greater Baltimore Center for Pregnancy Concerns, which occupies space rent-free from St. Brigid's, filed suit over the December 2009 law. They had claimed the law should be struck down as unconstitutional since it violated the rights to free speech and assembly, free exercise of religion, equal protection under the 14th Amendment, and the conscience clause under the Maryland Code.

Garbis' 29-page decision notes that he dismissed the archbishop and St. Brigid's as plaintiffs due to their lack of standing, adding that the parties could participate in the instant case as amici curiae.

"It is revealing that defendants refer to the ordinance as means of mitigating the 'harm' caused by plaintiffs' underlying 'propaganda' speech relating to abortion and contraception," the ruling states. "Such descriptions can only support the conclusion that defendants enacted the ordinance out of disagreement with plaintiffs' viewpoint on abortion and birth-control."

While the Baltimore law does not restrict speech at pregnancy counseling centers, Garbis found that the requirement amounts to unconstitutional "compelled speech."

"Moreover, the ordinance regulates the center's speech by mandating the timing and content of the introduction of the subjects of abortion and birth-control," the ruling states.

Having granted summary judgment on the free-speech claim alone, Garbis dismissed the plaintiffs' other constitutional and state-law claims as moot.

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