Greater Baltimore Center for Pregnancy Concerns, Inc. v. Mayor and City Council of Baltimore

Becket Role:
Counsel
Case Start Date:
March 29, 2010
Current Court:
U.S Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit
Original Court:
U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland
Practice Area(s):

Case Summary

A commitment to care for women

In Baltimore, a woman facing an unplanned pregnancy can always turn to the Greater Baltimore Center for Pregnancy Concerns for help. The Center, which operates on Catholic Church-owned property, helps more than 1,200 women each year with basic services like pregnancy tests, baby and maternity clothes, parenting books, diapers, bottles and formula, and sonograms—all free of charge. The Center also counsels more than 8,000 local women per year through their 24-hour helpline.

The Center’s staff and volunteers are motivated by their faith to help women and children during a vulnerable time in their lives. Displayed in each waiting room is a “Commitment of Care,” a document that explains the Center’s promises of nondiscrimination, honesty, and confidentiality, and also states that the Center “does not offer, recommend, or refer for abortion or birth control, but we are committed to offering accurate information about abortion procedures and risks.”

The government’s double standard

In 2009, the city of Baltimore targeted the Center, demanding they display government signs about the services they do not offer. The government mandated that the Center display signs on the walls of their church-owned property stating that they “do not provide or make referrals for abortion or birth control services.” The only centers targeted by this discriminatory law were those that were deemed “pro-life.” Yet the city of Baltimore did not require abortion clinics to display the services they do not offer, such as adoption or prenatal care. This discriminatory double standard by the city threatens the Center’s mission and their desire to create a comforting and supportive environment for the women who come to them for help.

The city claims that the government’s abortion message does not alter the Center’s speech because the Commitment of Care already notifies women that the Center does not offer referrals for abortion. But this reasoning completely misses a crucial part of the First Amendment: that people–not the government–know best what they want to say and how they want to say it. The Center already accurately informs women about the help they provide in a way that is in line with their mission; that should be enough.

Defending free speech for all

In 2010, the Center sued the Mayor and City Council of Baltimore for the right to continue to serve and communicate with women who come to them for help, in a way that respects each woman’s choice and circumstance as well as the Center’s mission.

In 2011 the Center won, but the government can’t take no for an answer. Becket joins David Kinkopf and Steve Metzger from Gallagher, Evelius, and Jones LLP, and Peter Basile from  Ferguson, Schetelich & Ballew, P.A. defending the Pregnancy Center.

In January of 2018, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals protected the Center from being forced to violate its conscience by referring for abortions or posting government messages about abortion on its walls. The decision confirms that the government has no business using compelled speech to make people “renounce and forswear what they have come as a matter of deepest conviction to believe.”