Pregnancy center legislation sees supporters and opponents

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Dr Melissa Lin Monte, Medical Director of the Care Net Pregnancy Resource Center in New London (Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie photo)

HARTFORD, CT – The public health committee heard two different stories on Monday about a bill that would regulate crisis pregnancy centers.

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. Supporters of a bill that went to a public hearing on Monday said the advertising methods used by these centers are misleading and trick women into believing they are receiving a full range of reproductive care when it is not. case.

“The intention of this bill is to prosecute those who are deceptive,” said Representative Jonathan Steinberg, D-Westport. “We seek to deal with the bad actors and leave the ethically performing ones alone.”

The bill would regulate advertising and allow the attorney general to seek a court order to bring a center into compliance with the law. A similar bill was introduced by the Public Health Committee last year for debate, but it never received a vote.

CLICK TO VOTE ON 2019 HB 7070: A Law Regarding the Deceptive Advertising Practices of Limited Service Pregnancy Centers

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Attorney General William Tong, who testified in favor of the legislation, 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 one separate case, the United States Supreme Court ruled that it was unconstitutional for the State of California to require pregnancy centers in crisis to publish a brief notice and call number for free reproductive health services and inexpensive, including abortion care.

There are about 25 emergency pregnancy centers in Connecticut, but only four of them offer medical services, according to Lisa Maloney, executive director of CareNet.

Tong said 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.

She noted that in 2015, NARAL released a landmark report, The Right to Lie, which included 22 secret visits to pregnancy centers that revealed several deceptive practices.

“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.

Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin testified on behalf of the state following his city’s action.

“I believe this is something one should support regardless of one’s stance on choice,” said Bronin, “that no woman deserves to be cheated or misled about the range of options. that are offered. “

The bill also has the support of Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney, D-New Haven.

“Under the guise of being a comprehensive reproductive health care provider, CPCs routinely use delaying tactics and medically inaccurate information to keep people away from choosing urgent reproductive health care,” Looney said.

“They frequently target urban neighborhoods and other medically underserved communities where people don’t have access to regular gynecology services. Regardless of our views on abortion access, I hope we can agree that using dishonesty to manipulate healthcare consumers is something we cannot tolerate in Connecticut, ”he said. he added.

But the centers also have their supporters.

Representative Vincent Candelora, R-North Branford, feared that the legislation – despite its good intentions – would open the state to “more litigation, not less”.

And Dr Melissa Lin Monte, medical director of the Care Net Pregnancy Resource Center in New London, told the committee, “There is nothing wrong about our pregnancy care center. She said the bill could unfairly hamper her practice.

“We offer support and encouragement to all pregnant women, not just those who wish to have an abortion,” Monte said. “We don’t market ourselves as an abortion clinic. Further, she said, “We believe in the fight for the lives of unborn children who have no voice. “

“We educate our patients about all of their options,” she said.

Cody Barr, secretary of the board of directors of Caring Family Services Pregnancy Services and volunteer at the Women’s Center of Eastern Connecticut, said in written testimony: “I strongly oppose this unconstitutional bill which unfairly discriminates against pregnancy centers. denominational.

“Pro-life pregnancy centers do not perform or recommend abortion because it would violate their religious and moral beliefs,” Barr said.

He said the legislation could violate the First Amendment.

“At our center, we believe that women are best served when they are given factual factual information about all of their legal options when dealing with an unplanned pregnancy,” Barr said. “Our center provides information to our clients on these legal options which include parenthood, adoption and abortion. We also offer option advice through a decision support tool, free pregnancy tests and ultrasounds, parenting classes, and material assistance.

Opponents of the bill feared advertisements such as “Pregnant? Need help ”are covered by the legislation.

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