Free Speech Does Costly Damage to Pregnant Women in Maryland

by Intern Christina

From not being able to use the word “vagina” on the house floor to taking away funding for Planned Parenthood, it’s safe to say there is a war on women’s rights waging on in the United States. I hate the term “war on women.” It’s always seemed too dramatic to me. “Are people dying?” I would question when someone threw the term around. The truth is that they could be. Without the proper resources for prenatal care, safe abortions, or even family planning help, pregnant women and new mothers risk their own and their children’s lives. 

Recently, in Baltimore, a district court rules that a “Crisis Pregnancy Center” did not have to post sign-age outside stating that it does not provide abortion or birth control outside of family planning. While this may not seem too unfair, consider the shady scare tactics that the center partakes in. First of all, Catholic churches manage many of these centers. This obviously does not bode well with anyone seeking contraception outside of abstinence. And what does one actually think they might find at a “Crisis Pregnancy Center?” Probably something that one would need in a crisis, such as Plan B or medical attention. I do not think most people would be going there to seek emotional counseling concerning family planning. The centers are infamous for rescheduling appointments well after they originally promised the pregnant women, thereby making abortion impossible in some cases if women plan on going to the center on the presumption that it provides that kind of procedure.

What’s even worse is that they centers go further to intimidate women out of their right to choose once the women are inside. As Reproductive Health Reality check reports, “Some of these centers outright lie to women. A 2006 Congressional investigation by Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) found that 20 of 23 crisis pregnancy centers gave women false medical information, such as telling women that abortion can lead to breast cancer, suicide, and fertility problems.” While not all of the centers engage in this behavior, the fact that even some do is appalling. 

In 2009, the city of Baltimore passed a law that required these organizations to post outside of their buildings that they do not provide abortions. I believe that this is simple and fair. However, the local church sued, stating that doing so forces their speech and, even more ludicrously, causes them to encourage women to seek abortion. I could understand this defense, pending that the woman in question had not ever heard of the procedure and had no supposition that the center would provide information about it or the procedure itself. This, however, is simply false. Women are fully aware that abortion exists, and simply posting a sign that the center does not perform them would not encourage abortions, rather, it would make the center’s intentions clear. 

The defense was based on commerce and free speech: “We do not offer cars built in the United States” would be impermissible under the First Amendment because it would “handicap” BMW salespeople who didn’t want their customers to think about the fact that they are purchasing a non-American car.” The district court remarked in it’s verdict that the Baltimore ordinance would harm the Pregnancy Center because when a woman “comes in and [the Center] says we don’t offer abortions” the woman thinks, “Oh, abortions, yeah, I guess I better ask about that.” The dissent remarked that “[c]omparing a woman’s right to seek lawful medical treatment to a salesperson’s economic interest in keeping his customers ignorant is, as the court initially thought before it made the comparison anyway, ‘a stupid example.'”

I agree. It’s disheartening to think that a woman’s future and the future of her unborn child would be regulated in a way that is comparable to commerce. The informing of women in regards to their health is not business. It’s personal. 

Image courtesy of RH Reality Check

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