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The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals has struck down the Baltimore law targeting pregnancy centers. The law required these centers to post clear notices in their waiting rooms stating that actual abortion services, and referrals to abortion services, are not provided there.
In striking down the law, the appellate court affirmed the district court's conclusion that the government failed to show any actual harm resulted from delays allegedly caused by the pregnancy centers' allegedly deceptive advertising.
While there may have been noble motivations in passing the law, as the court noted, the city was unable to produce a single woman who had walked into a pregnancy center believing they could get an abortion there.
As a result of the law being a content-based restriction on non-commercial speech, the courts applied strict scrutiny to the law, and found that the law couldn't cut constitutional muster. It did not satisfy a compelling government purpose since the government couldn't show any actual harm, nor was it narrowly tailored since it applied to all pregnancy centers (even those that didn't advertise, and thus couldn't deceptively advertise).
Although the law was held to be unconstitutional, there is no doubt that some of the advertising used by pregnancy centers identified by the case is confusing. The Fourth Circuit's decision makes clear that the law, as passed, suffered from deficiencies that could potentially be remedied in a redrafting of the law.
The Fourth Circuit ends its opinion with the following piece of wisdom for pro-life and pro-choice advocates: "...it is not too much to ask that they lay down the arms of compelled speech and wield only the tools of persuasion. The First Amendment requires it."
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