Opponents of a scorching proposal to regulate the state’s so-called crisis pregnancy centers hailed the bill’s defeat this week and vowed to step up efforts to block similar plans next year.
“It was an act of God because there is no other explanation for it,” said Peter Wolfgang, executive director of the Family Institute of Connecticut, which has lobbied against the legislation. “It’s a victory at all levels. There is no earthly reason why the Family Institute of Connecticut and our allies have done as well as we have this year. It was a miracle.
Wolfgang cited the Democratic majority in both chambers and media coverage that was “slanted in favor of attacking” pregnancy centers as major hurdles that pro-lifers were able to overcome.
The measure, which passed a key committee in March and was approved by the House of Representatives last month, bans deceptive advertising practices by faith-based centers. Critics say facility staff sometimes masquerade as medical professionals to attract women and spread misleading information about abortions.
The bill would have ended deceptive advertising on billboards, buses, brochures or websites, and it would have given the state attorney general’s office the power to seek a court order to put an end to these deceptive practices. Violators would have received a notice to correct the problem within 10 days. If no action had been taken, the attorney general could have appealed to the courts, demanding fines or other penalties.
Critics argued that the bill threatened the centers’ right to free speech and gave too much power to Attorney General William Tong, who is in his first year in office. Wolfgang called the pro-choice lobby “too radical” in its strategy to silence faith-based institutions and called its mission “point of view discrimination.”
“It was very obvious that they were being targeted just because they were pro-life,” he said of the pregnancy centers. “The supporters of the bill have never produced objective evidence to prove that the women were cheated. “
But supporters presented examples of what they considered specious advertising – screenshots from websites that read “Are you thinking about abortion?” »Displayed in large print on the home page. An activist shared a screenshot from a pregnancy center website that read, “Are you considering abortion? Care Net is your first step.
Without licensed medical staff, they argued, faith centers are not qualified to provide medical advice.
“For someone who uses the internet to seek help with an unplanned pregnancy… there’s a good chance their research results will send them to a limited-service pregnancy center,” said Sarah Croucher, director of NARAL Pro-Choice Connecticut, earlier this year. .
The bill ultimately died in the Senate on Wednesday, with leaders saying they ran out of time to debate the issue.
“The Pregnancy Crisis Bill, we found out, was going to be a real marathon runner among Republicans, so in the end we couldn’t find a time slot for it that wouldn’t have caused much damage. ‘other bills. sacrificed, ”said Senator Pro Tem Martin Looney, D-New Haven.
Republican Senate Leader Len Fasano said his party members saw the bill as unnecessary.
“It’s pushed by a certain group and we don’t agree with their policies,” he said. “I think it’s, again, the government trying to get involved where the government doesn’t belong.”
Despite the setback, Democrats and Choice supporters have said they are determined to bring the problem back next year. A similar bill failed to get out of committee in 2018, and House approval last month was seen as a step forward.
“We are definitely going to continue that next year for sure,” Croucher said Thursday. “We are very convinced that there is no constitutional protection against misleading advertising.”
The bill’s journey this session has had positive effects – some of the centers have removed deceptive language from their websites after the measure went to a public hearing, she said.
Over the next few months, Choice advocates will meet with lawmakers and members of their support network to discuss strategy for future legislation.
“I’m frustrated that they didn’t call the bill earlier when there was time for debate,” Croucher said, “but I’m also very confident we’ll get it through there. ‘next year.”