CT denominational pregnancy center sues city of Hartford

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A faith-based pregnancy center in Willimantic has asked a federal judge for an injunction against a controversial Hartford order that requires religious establishments to disclose whether their staff hold medical licenses.

The challenge to the local ordinance comes as lawmakers consider imposing similar rules statewide. Last month, the legislature’s public health committee brought forward a proposal that would end deceptive advertising practices at one of the state’s 25 faith-based pregnancy centers.

The capital began to enforce its ordinance in October. Hartford law requires faith-based emergency pregnancy centers to notify people if they do not have a licensed medical provider on staff or on site. Centers should display a poster in the window and welcome area and post a similar message on their websites.

Critics of faith-based institutions said their staff sometimes posed as medical workers to attract women and spread misleading information about abortions.


On Thursday, the nonprofit Caring Families Pregnancy Services filed a federal lawsuit against the city, seeking an injunction to stop the order and claiming its rights had been violated. While its main operations are in Willimantic, Caring Families operates a mobile care unit that travels statewide, including Hartford.

“This challenge aims to protect the right of a pro-life and faith-based pregnancy care center to exercise its religious beliefs and speak out about those beliefs so that it can help women concerned about pregnancy and motherhood,” the group’s lawyers wrote in the lawsuit.

The signs he is forced to post on his mobile unit “wrongly imply that Mobile Care is not qualified to provide the free services it offers,” the lawyers said. The center offers ultrasounds, pregnancy tests, counseling, adoption recommendations, child rearing classes and Bible studies, among other resources, at no cost.

In an article posted on the Internet, lawyers said that Caring Families “offers a wide range of services that do not require the supervision of a licensed medical provider.”

“Hartford has no reason to imply – by force of law – that Caring Families and other pro-life care providers are anything but competent and tolerant,” said Denise Harle, counsel for the group, in a statement. prepared statement. Worse yet, Hartford claims it promotes comprehensive information about healthcare, but only censors and interferes with specific views on life, pregnancy, motherhood – a double standard that is both troubling and unconstitutional.

Harle and other lawyers from Caring Families could not be reached on Thursday evening. A spokesperson for Mayor Luke Bronin did not immediately respond to a call for comment.

Caring Families also asked the court to find that the Hartford order violates the free exercise of religion, freedom of speech, establishment, due process and equal protection clauses of the U.S. Constitution, and that it is breaking state law. He claims unspecified damages and legal fees.

Peter Wolfgang, director of the Family Institute of Connecticut and vocal opponent of the Hartford ordinance, praised the group for taking legal action.

“We told the city that they would likely be prosecuted for targeting the free speech of pro-lifers and that they would likely lose in court,” he said Thursday. “We are delighted to see that our first prediction has come true. We hope the second will do it too.

Hartford City Council approved the Hot Button Ordinance in December 2017 for enforcement from July 2018.

The city suspended plans in June 2018 after the United States Supreme Court overturned a California law that required crisis pregnancy centers to tell clients they can access free, low-cost abortions. Judge Clarence Thomas wrote in the court’s majority opinion that California illegally coerced faith centers into giving women information that was contrary to their beliefs.

But Hartford executives announced in September that after consulting with lawyers, they were moving forward with local enforcement. Bronin said the city’s mandate was “a very simple and narrowly tailored disclosure,” unlike California law which required more affirmative statements from religious institutions.

The city’s health and social services department began to apply the following month. Fines of $ 100 per day can now be imposed on centers that violate the order.

In Hartford, authorities have targeted a facility on Jefferson Street called the Hartford Women’s Center, located a short walk from an abortion clinic. They said the women’s center was opened there to intercept female patients who were heading to the clinic.

Efforts to pass a statewide regulation during last year’s legislative session were unsuccessful. The defenders continued this year, despite vocal opposition from supporters of faith-based centers.

Under the measure approved by the Public Health Committee, the Connecticut attorney general could seek a court injunction to end the deceptive practices. Faith centers found in violation of the law may be required to broadcast “corrective” advertising, post a notice that corrects false information, or pay a fine.

The bill has yet to be approved by the House and Senate.

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