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A Quiet Victory for Life–and the First Amendment

June 28, the day the U.S. Supreme Court upheld key parts of Obamacare, was a bad day for pro-life advocates, and for the First Amendment.

While the legal battle continues, the court decision removed one of the few remaining barriers preventing the Obama administration from implementing its contraceptive mandate, an egregious violation of the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious freedom that requires most religious employers to provide free contraceptives, sterilizations, and abortion-inducing drugs to their employees.

But the day before the much-heralded Obamacare decision, another court case was decided that has important implications for the First Amendment and the pro-life cause. The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Montgomery County, Maryland, cannot force a pro-life pregnancy center to post a public disclaimer that discourages pregnant women from using its services.

In 2010, the Montgomery County Council approved a regulation forcing Centro Tepeyac Women’s Center, located just north of Washington, D.C., to post signs in English and Spanish stating, “The Center does not have a licensed medical professional on staff,” and “The Montgomery County Health Officer encourages women who are or may be pregnant to consult with a licensed health care provider.”

If Tepeyac refused to post the sign, it would have been subjected to fines of as much as $750 a day, a steep price for a center run on a shoestring budget.

So, with the help of lawyers from the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF), Tepeyac sued Montgomery County.

A district court struck down the first part of the disclosure but upheld the second, on the grounds that it “does not require any other specific message and in neutral language states the truth.”

But ADF filed an appeal, and on June 27, the entire disclosure requirement was struck down. “Even supposedly neutral and fact-based compelled disclosures can imperil free speech,” federal appellate Judge Paul Niemeyer wrote in the majority opinion. “The government, even with the purest of motives, may not substitute its judgment as to how best to speak for that of speakers and listeners.”

The county’s argument that the disclosure language was “neutral” was absurd. As one attorney put it, it would be something like forcing President Obama, the next time he gives a speech on healthcare, to say, “I’m Barack Obama, and I have no experience running a hospital or healthcare system.”

The court also struck down a similar ordinance in Baltimore aimed at the Greater Baltimore Center for Pregnancy Concerns. “Pregnancy centers offer real help and hope to women,” said ADF Legal Counsel Matt Bowman. “They should be free to share that message instead of being compelled to provide the government’s preferred message, which sends women elsewhere.

Pro-abortion legislators have spent years trying to create special speech rules for pro-life centers. At least a dozen anti-pregnancy center laws have been considered in the past few years. Some laws would force centers to announce that they are not abortion facilities. Others try to limit the type of information women receive about the health effects of abortion. A Washington law would require centers to post large signs with 30-point font and in a variety of languages.

ADF attorneys have filed suit against two similar laws, one in Austin, Texas, and another in New York City.

The existence of anti-pregnancy center regulations is an acknowledgement by abortion absolutists that these centers are successful in their mission. In fact, they are one of the primary reasons abortion numbers have declined in recent years.

Abortion advocates call them “fake” clinics and claim that they lure abortion-minded women inside using false information and convince them to give birth using scare tactics.

But there’s no evidence of this. Pregnancy centers offer a variety of services, usually at no cost to patients, including pregnancy tests, sonograms, job training, baby clothes, diapers, mentoring programs, and legal help.

Most of all they help women, many of whom are young, unmarried, and non-native English speakers, realize that they’re not alone, and that they don’t have to choose death for their child. It is not unusual for former clients to become counselors.

Pregnancy centers provide services to millions of women. In 2010, Centro Tepeyac made contact with more than 3,000 women and assisted 59 abortion-minded women who changed their minds and chose life. Those are 59 abortions taken away from the abortion industry.

That may not sound like many, but there are an estimated 3,000 pro-life pregnancy centers nationally. That’s a lot of lives saved.

According to the left, it’s the government’s job alone to decide when and how to discuss abortion and birth control methods. It’s part of the left’s authoritarian impulse on all matters related to sexuality and healthcare.

But sometimes we are reminded that the Constitution is the ultimate arbiter of laws in our society. And when judges apply the clear meaning of the Constitution to the cases before them, the cause for life usually wins.

Gary L. Bauer currently serves as president of American Values and chairman of Campaign for Working Families PAC. He was a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination in 2000, served as president of the Family Research Council for ten years, and served all eight years in the Reagan administration as undersecretary of education and as President Reagan’s chief domestic policy advisor. He is the author of four books, including Children at Risk: The Battle for the Hearts and Minds of Our Kids, co-written with Focus on the Family founder, Dr. James Dobson. 

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