A new law in Connecticut requires organizations serving women facing an unplanned pregnancy, such as pro-life pregnancy resource centers (PRCs), to describe themselves in their advertisements as offering only “limited services” if they do not also offer abortions. The law allows the state attorney general to decide which organizations are guilty of “deceptive advertising,” and either force them to “correct” their advertising or punish them under this law.
One faith-based, pro-life group is pushing back with a federal lawsuit. Pregnancy Support Center, Inc., doing business as Care Net Pregnancy Resource Center of Southeastern Connecticut (Care Net), is represented by attorneys with Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF). In a complaint filed in the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut, Care Net asserts, “This challenge seeks to protect the right of a pro-life, faith-based pregnancy care center to exercise its religious beliefs and to speak about those beliefs so it can help women with concerns about pregnancy and motherhood.”
The law is clearly designed to target pro-life entities, which by their very nature do not offer abortions as part of their services. However, abortion sellers who do not provide services like prenatal ultrasounds or obstetric services are not similarly required under this law to advertise themselves as providing “limited services.”
“This law allows the state attorney general to decide if he likes what you’re saying, and if he doesn’t, you must ‘correct’ it or be punished,” ADF Senior Counsel Denise Harle said in a press release announcing the filing of the lawsuit. “The Supreme Court has made it clear that the government can’t target certain messages because it doesn’t like a particular viewpoint. Care Net should have the freedom to continue serving women in southeastern Connecticut without government censorship.”
The general constitutional rule is that a speaker cannot be compelled to utter a government-approved message that the speaker does not agree with. That rule flows from the First Amendment’s prohibition against federal, state and local governments “abridging the freedom of speech.”
The Connecticut law forces Care Net and other PRCs to speak a pro-abortion, government-required message that favors abortion and prevents pro-life organizations from advertising their services in the manner they desire. According to the lawsuit, the law’s exemptions excuse hospitals, outpatient clinics, abortion clinics, county health departments, and private physicians’ offices from compliance.”
It’s clear that the Connecticut legislature does not want faith-based people offering hope to women seeking their help, especially where those women might choose life for their preborn babies rather than abortion.
And the law may favor Care Net’s side in the current legal battle. In 2018, in National Institute of Family and Life Advocates v. Becerra, the U.S. Supreme Court stopped California from requiring pro-life PRCs there to promote abortion. In that unanimous 9-0 decision, the high court admonished California for compelling PRCs to post a government-approved abortion advertisement that contradicted the mission of those pro-life organizations.
“This Court’s precedents are deeply skeptical of laws that “distinguis[h] among different speakers, allowing speech by some but not others,” Justice Clarence Thomas wrote for the court. … Speaker-based laws run the risk that ‘the State has left unburdened those speakers whose messages are in accord with its own views.’” [Case citations were omitted for clarity.]
“California has offered no justification that the notice plausibly furthers. It targets speakers, not speech, and imposes an unduly burdensome disclosure requirement that will chill their protected speech.”
The specific facts in the Connecticut case are somewhat different than in the California case, but the underlying constitutional protection against government-compelled speech remains. In fact, ADF has already been successful in achieving a settlement on behalf of another Connecticut PRC in Hartford that was faced with a local ordinance there compelling it to obey certain government-approved advertising requirements.
Abortion supporters are fond of accusing PRCs of deceiving women into changing their minds about abortion, so they feel the need to pass laws like Connecticut’s or California’s. The reality is that the abortion industry does not want women to hear God’s truth that their preborn baby is made in His image, and that there is help and support for women who choose life for their child.
And the First Amendment is our guarantee that we will be able to speak that truth free from government coercion or punishment. Hopefully, the federal court in Connecticut will agree.
The case is Pregnancy Support Center Inc., v. Tong.
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