LIFE DIGEST: Court Protects Pregnancy Center Speech Rights

By Tom Strode
Jul 3, 2012

The U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals delivered twin victories for pregnancy help centers June 27.

The court, based in Richmond, Va., ruled two Maryland jurisdictions – the city of Baltimore and Montgomery County – violated the free speech rights of pro-life pregnancy centers with laws that required them to post signs that could have had the effect of discouraging women from using their services.

Also in this edition: Struggle over assisted suicide continues on different fronts, Judge: Couple may sue for inability to abort cystic fibrosis daughter, Miami doctors remove oral tumor on unborn baby for first time, and New Jersey’s Christie again vetoes funds for Planned Parenthood

Baltimore’s measure required pregnancy help centers to display signs saying they do not provide abortions or contraceptives or make referrals for the services. Montgomery County’s law mandated each center post a sign saying there is no “licensed medical professional” on its staff and the county urges women who are, or who may be, pregnant to see a licensed provider.

In both opinions, a three-judge panel voted 2-1 to affirm largely the decisions of federal judges who had halted enforcement of the laws.

The Alliance Defense Fund (ADF), which represented a center in the Montgomery County case, applauded the appeals court’s ruling.

“Pregnancy centers offer real help and hope to women. They should be free to share that message instead of being compelled to provide the government’s preferred message, which sends women elsewhere,” ADF Legal Counsel Matt Bowman said in a written release. “Pregnancy centers provide women with the emotional support and practical resources they need, giving them more choices. They should not be made to speak negatively about the important services they provide.”

Many pro-life pregnancy centers offer such free services as pregnancy tests, ultrasound exams, prenatal care, childbirth classes, testing for sexually transmitted diseases, abstinence education, post-abortion counseling and material assistance. Abortion clinics typically do not provide many of these services.

Opponents of such laws as that passed in Baltimore have charged they are discriminatory, since they do not require abortion clinics to post signs indicating what services they do not provide.

New York City approved an ordinance similar to Baltimore’s law, but a federal judge has blocked its enforcement.

Struggle over assisted suicide continues on different fronts

The battle over the legalization of physician-assisted suicide continues internationally.

In recent developments:

  • Members of the British Medical Association (BMA) rejected June 27 an effort to downgrade its stance on doctor-assisted suicide from opposition to neutrality.
  • A British Columbia Supreme Court justice struck down Canada’s bans on assisted suicide June 15.
  • Voters in the Swiss canton (state) of Vaud approved with a 62 percent majority June 17 the first measure explicitly legalizing assisted suicide within guidelines in hospitals and nursing homes.

Some medical professionals at the BMA annual meeting in Bournemouth, England, called for the change in the organization’s position, but members voted the request down.

“We must question what as doctors we stand for,” said a physician, Dai Samuel, in response to the proposal, according to The Independent. “I simply stand for looking after my patients and providing high quality care.

“I do not consider the killing of patients, — whatever the reason is – justified. That is murder and I cannot commit that [offense].”

In British Columbia, Supreme Court Justice Lynn Smith ruled assisted-suicide bans discriminate against the disabled, according to Canadian Broadcasting Corp. (CBC) News. Suicide is legal, she pointed out. Laws against assisted suicide violate the equal rights of the disabled who are unable to take their own lives, she said.

Will Johnston, chair of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition of British Columbia, called it a “radical decision.”

“We think that this judgment decided to minimize and disregard a lot of the evidence of harm in other jurisdictions where assisted suicide and euthanasia has been [practiced], and we are extremely concerned about the situation of elder abuse which is a major issue in Canada,” Johnson said, according to CBC News.

Smith postponed enforcement of her decision for a year to permit the Canadian Parliament to weigh new legislation, CBC News reported.

Assisted suicide is permitted in Switzerland, as well as Belgium, Luxembourg and The Netherlands.

Judge: Couple may sue for inability to abort cystic fibrosis daughter

A Montana judge has ruled a couple who would have aborted their unborn daughter had they known she would have cystic fibrosis can sue their health-care providers.

In Bozeman, Mont., District Court Judge Mike Salvagni said June 18 a suit by Joe and Kerrie Evans can go to court. The Evanses sued Livingston HealthCare and medical professionals for failing to offer a test to see if they carried the recessive gene for cystic fibrosis, according to the Great Falls (Mont.) Tribune. Health-care providers also failed to order a test during Kerrie Evans’ first trimester of pregnancy, though she had expressed concerns about her baby having the disease, the newspaper reported.

Evans was 38 years old when she became pregnant.

The health-care providers urged Salvagni to dismiss the suit, describing it as a “wrongful birth” lawsuit. The Evanses are requesting damages “for a missed opportunity to abort their daughter,” said Julie Lichte, a lawyer for the defendants. Permitting the suit to go to court “will ask a jury to award them damages for the very existence of their daughter,” she said, according to the Tribune.

Salvagni, who rejected the use of the term “wrongful birth,” said dismissing the case would “immunize from liability those in the medical field providing guidance to persons who would choose to exercise their constitutional right to abort
their fetuses, which, if born, would suffer from genetic (or other) defects,” the newspaper reported.

Miami doctors remove oral tumor on unborn baby for first time

Doctors performed barrier-breaking surgery to remove a tumor from an unborn girl’s mouth, likely saving her life, it was recently reported.

Leyna Mykaella Gonzalez is now 20 months old with a small scar at a corner of her mouth the only indication she has had surgery, but she was in danger in 2010 while in her mother’s womb. An ultrasound showed a large tumor growing on her mouth when her mother, Tammy Gonzalez, was about halfway through her pregnancy. Doctors told Tammy her daughter had little chance of survival.

“The concern with these tumors is they can grow very rapidly. They can cause bleeding, which can cause the death of the baby,” said Ruben Quintero, a pioneer in treating defects on unborn babies at the University of Miami (Fla.)/Jackson Memorial Hospital, at a June 21 news conference.

In May 2010, Quintero and his colleague, Eftichia Kontopoulos, performed surgery on Leyna in utero, using an endoscope with the guidance of ultrasound to remove the tumor with a laser, according to the university.

Tammy, who remained awake during the surgery under a local anesthetic, told Channel 4, the Miami CBS affiliate, “It was like this huge weight had been lifted off. It just floated away and I could see her face.”

Leyna was born Oct. 1, 2010, and weighed 8 pounds, 1 ounce.

The American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology recently published an article by Quintero and Kontopoulos on the first removal of an oral tumor on an unborn child.

New Jersey’s Christie again vetoes funds for Planned Parenthood

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie vetoed June 29 legislation that would have restored $7.5 million in state funding to Planned Parenthood. It is the fourth time the Republican governor has rejected funding for Planned Parenthood, according to New Jersey Right to Life.

The Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) is the country’s leading abortion provider. PPFA’s affiliates reported their clinics did 329,445 abortions in 2010, the latest year for which statistics are available. PPFA and its affiliates received government grants, contracts and reimbursements that totaled $487.4 million in 2009-10.

The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission works to protect the sanctity of human life. If you would like to learn more about this issue, additional resources are available here. Our free, downloadable Impact resource is also available online. If your church is interested in purchasing materials on the sanctity of human life, please visit our online bookstore and erlc.com

Further Learning

Learn more about: Life, Abortion, End-of-Life Issues, Citizenship, National,

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