Despite the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling last year barring governments from forcing pro-life pregnancy centers to advertise abortion services, the city of Hartford, Conn., and other jurisdictions are still targeting pro-life ministries. Caring Families Pregnancy Services, which serves the cities of Willimantic and Hartford, filed a complaint last month with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) over Hartford’s requirement that it provide notices that could discourage women from using its services.
Caring Families claims that a recently enacted city ordinance discriminates against it by compelling it to inform clients that it does “not have a licensed medical provider on site to provide or supervise all services.” The new law exempts abortion centers and community health clinics from providing the notice. Connecticut legislators are considering statewide restrictions similar to those enacted by Hartford, the Connecticut Post reported.
The HHS complaint followed a lawsuit against the ordinance filed in April by Mobile Care, a satellite ministry of Caring Families. While the city claimed the ordinance was meant to ensure that women had comprehensive access to reproductive health services, Caring Families contended the real purpose was to deter pregnant women from considering pro-life alternatives to abortion. The pregnancy care center also called the required notice misleading because the services the center provides do not require the supervision of a medical professional. According to its website, Caring Families offers ultrasounds, pregnancy testing, counseling, adoption referrals, parenting classes, Bible studies, and post-abortion support—none of which require a licensed medical provider to be present.
In June 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA) v. Becerra that a California law that required pro-life pregnancy centers to notify women of the availability of free or low-cost abortions and that they had “no licensed medical provider who provides or directly supervises the provision of services” was unconstitutional, compelled speech. Alliance Defending Freedom counsel Denise Harle, who represents Caring Families, told me NIFLA dictates the result here.
“The Supreme Court made clear in NIFLA that governments cannot single out a certain viewpoint for disfavored treatment and then coerce those speakers to make certain statements, under threat of punishment,” she said.
Courts have partially and wholly invalidated similar laws in Austin, Texas; Baltimore; Hawaii; Illinois; Montgomery County, Md.; and New York City, Harle said, adding, “The city of Hartford is the only governmental entity we’re aware of that has been brazen enough to enact speech regulations discriminating against pro-life pregnancy centers in spite of the Supreme Court’s clear ruling.”
Yet NIFLA Vice President of Legal Affairs Anne O’Connor told me about similar attempts to flout Supreme Court precedent. New York’s state Senate is considering legislation to require pro-life pregnancy centers to inform clients that they do not provide abortions or birth control services. And a New Jersey bill would require such facilities to tell clients that the Department of Health encourages pregnant women to consult with a licensed healthcare professional, along with whether the center has a licensed healthcare professional on staff and provides referrals for contraception or abortion services.
“After the NIFLA ruling, we thought that abortion proponents would walk away for a while,” O’Connor said. "Instead, it’s like we kicked the beehive.”