A pro-life pregnancy center in New London, Connecticut, sued Attorney General William Tong in federal court Tuesday, challenging the state’s “gag rule” on what a 2021 law calls “limited pregnancy resource centers,” alleging such groups may practice “deceptive advertising” by speaking against abortion.
Care Net Pregnancy Resource Center of Southeastern Connecticut is challenging the state’s Public Act 21-17, which says: “No limited services pregnancy center, with the intent to perform a pregnancy-related service, shall make or disseminate … any statement concerning any pregnancy-related service or the provision of any pregnancy-related service that is deceptive, whether by statement or omission.”
Care Net in its lawsuit says the law “targets pro-life pregnancy centers by forcing them to comply with state-approved speech or face punishment.”
According to Alliance Defending Freedom, the public-interest law firm representing Care Net, the Connecticut law would allow the attorney general to say the group has engaged in “deceptive advertising” by promoting a pro-life message to women concerned about their pregnancy. Care Net and similar groups would either have to run what the state calls “corrective advertising” or face lawsuits and fines.
The ADF statement said abortion providers that do not provide obstetric services or ultrasound procedures are exempt from the new law.
“Women who become unexpectedly pregnant should be empowered with life-affirming options, emotional support, and practical resources,” Denise Harle, a senior counsel with ADF, said in a statement. “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,” she added.
Ms. Harle said, “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.”
In August of 2020, the city of Hartford, Connecticut, settled a lawsuit filed by Caring Families, a pro-life pregnancy group in neighboring Willamantic that operates a mobile clinic in Hartford. That suit concerned a 2017 city ordinance highly similar to Public Act 21-17.
The Hartford measure also banned what it called “deceptive advertising” by the pro-life groups, and required personnel to disclose to clients whether or not they had medical licenses. Alliance Defending Freedom also represented Caring Families in the Hartford case, with Hartford acknowledging the measure did not apply to the mobile facility.
Writing in the Connecticut Post last month, Democratic state senator Christine Palm lauded NARAL Pro-Choice Connecticut and Planned Parenthood for working with legislators to pass the measure now challenged in federal court. “It’s another example of the power of state legislatures to protect the rights of all citizens,” Ms. Palm wrote.
The lawsuit was filed in the federal district court for Connecticut, ADF said.