Controversial regulation of crisis pregnancy centers progresses

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HARTFORD – A controversial bill that would regulate advertising for crisis pregnancy centers was passed in the House on Thursday by 81 to 63 votes, largely depending on the parties, after much debate.

The bill now goes to the Senate.

Pregnancy Crisis Centers provide services and support related to pregnancy, but do not offer abortions or emergency contraception and do not offer referrals for these services. Critics of the centers say women believe they are receiving a full range of reproductive care when they are not.

The bill approved Thursday regulates the advertising of centers and allows the attorney general to seek a court order to bring a center into compliance with the law.


Representative Jonathan Steinberg, D-Westport, said the goal of legislation and government is to prey on “bad actors” – those who “intentionally deceive people about the services they provide.”

Referring to pregnancy clinics, Steinberg said, “The vast majority behave well, act responsibly, are ethical, straightforward and clear. But we are concerned about bad actors who intentionally deceive young people about the services they provide. “

Steinberg added, “We often have young women seeking medical advice on their alternatives. He said this can often involve a woman considering an abortion, but these women “may end up delaying the decision to have an abortion until abortion is no longer an option.”

The bill came up for debate following Alabama’s decision to join Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi and Ohio in banning abortions when a fetal heartbeat is detected, this which could take up to seven weeks.

Connecticut may appear to be firmly pro-choice, but “women’s reproductive rights are under attack in this country,” Representative Jillian Gilchrest, D-West Hartford told colleagues, saying the anti-choice movement has a strategy. in the courts, in the level of the Federal Congress and the legislative level of the State.

She said this strategy plays out particularly in poorer communities in the state where, she said, it is common for full reproductive health clinics to open near crisis pregnancy centers. .

In a press conference ahead of the floor debate, Representative Liz Linehan, D-Cheshire, noted that the bill has already been submitted to the Legislature and “I hope this time we get it through. the goal line “.

She, like Steinberg, said that “the vast majority (of pregnancy centers) will not be affected because they act appropriately. We are chasing bad actors.

Representative William A. Petit, Jr., R-Plainville, during debate on the bill, said during the public hearing on the legislation that he did not believe there had been any instances of suspected irregularity at a Connecticut pregnancy center.

“My position has been consistent,” said Petit. “I didn’t get the impression that there was a major problem in 2017 and 2019.”

Petit introduced an amendment that would place the jurisdiction to prosecute “bad actors” under the Ministry of Consumer Protection, instead of the Attorney General’s office.

His position was echoed by minority parliamentary leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby, who said there was no reason for law enforcement to fall “under the auspices of the attorney general’s office” .

Steinberg said he believes the bill would be better enforced under the auspices of the attorney general’s office. Petit’s amendment was defeated, largely along party lines.

Representative Gail Lavielle, R-Wilton, also spoke out against the bill, who simply said, “It is not the government’s business to get into anyone’s life. I will always be pro-choice, but I vote against this bill.

Attorney General William Tong, who testified in favor of the legislation in a public hearing, said it was closely modeled on San Francisco legislation which has been upheld by higher court rulings.

San Francisco enacted its Truth in Advertising Act in 2011 to prevent crisis pregnancy centers from running advertisements that make them appear to be abortion providers. The ordinance imposes penalties on clinics that make false or misleading statements.

In another case, the United States Supreme Court ruled that it was unconstitutional for the state of California to require pregnancy centers in crisis to post a brief notice and call number for services. free and inexpensive reproductive health, including abortion care.

There are about three dozen emergency pregnancy centers in Connecticut, but only four of them offer medical services, according to Lisa Maloney, executive director of CareNet.

Tong and other supporters say the bill “does not talk about anti-abortion advocacy. It only prohibits limited service pregnancy centers from using false, misleading or misleading language about the services they provide, or from using language offering services that the center does not intend to provide.

Sarah Croucher, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Connecticut, also testified in support of the bill.

“Our work in Hartford included significant documentation of the damage done by these centers and their attempts to ‘lure’ women who sought legitimate health care into one of their facilities,” Croucher noted.

She said that in March 2018 they released an updated report and the results showed that “although their practices are varied, several limited-service pregnancy centers in Connecticut continue to mislead people trying to find abortion care, ”Croucher said in written testimony.

As a result of the NARAL report, the City of Hartford passed its own legislation strengthening the reporting requirements of the city’s pregnancy centers.

A federal lawsuit was filed against the city of Hartford in April for promulgating the ordinance.

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of Willimantic-based Caring Families Pregnancy Services Inc. and its mobile care units, claims the Hartford ordinance violates Connecticut laws and the United States Constitution because it obliges them to be disclosed if he does not have a licensed medical practitioner on site at all times.

It is likely that a similar lawsuit would be brought against the state if this legislation became law.

A coalition representing some of the centers that would be the subject of this bill said the bill specifically targets pregnancy resource centers that do not reference abortions. The coalition sees this as “point of view discrimination” and is part of an effort by abortion advocates, such as NARAL CT, to bankrupt these centers through costly lawsuits. The coalition vehemently denies the allegations of false and misleading advertising by supporters of the legislation.

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