Connecticut Crisis-Pregnancy Center Withdraws Lawsuit Against ‘Deceptive Advertising’ Ban
The pro-life center says state Attorney General William Tong has admitted to not knowing of any examples of such misleading ads.
HARTFORD, Conn. — A pro-life pregnancy center in Connecticut has ended its legal challenge of a state statute that bans what it calls “deceptive advertising” by such centers.
A lawyer representing Care Net Pregnancy Resource Center of Southeastern Connecticut said his clients are satisfied that the state attorney general, William Tong, isn’t taking action against crisis-pregnancy centers in the state.
“Connecticut Attorney General Tong revealed in the litigation that he is not aware of any women being deceived by pro-life pregnancy centers. Therefore, he currently has no basis to enforce this law. Our client, Care Net New London, will continue to focus their energy and resources on serving unborn children and their mothers,” said Mark Lippelman, senior counsel at Alliance Defending Freedom, in a written statement to the Register through a spokesman.
Alliance Defending Freedom is a legal organization headquartered in Arizona that takes religious-liberty and free-speech cases.
“We are pleased this matter has been resolved,” said Elizabeth Benton, chief of communications and policy for the Connecticut Attorney General’s Office, by email.
Both sides signed onto a court filing known as a “Joint Stipulation of Dismissal” on Jan. 11. The case was dismissed the next day without prejudice, meaning a similar lawsuit could be filed in the future.
In May 2021, the state Legislature passed a bill that prohibits “any statement concerning any pregnancy-related service or the provision of any pregnancy-related service that is deceptive, whether by statement or omission, and that a limited-services pregnancy center knows or reasonably should know to be deceptive.”
The bill calls a pro-life pregnancy resource center a “limited-services pregnancy center” because it doesn’t provide abortions or contraception or referrals for them.
The governor signed it into law later that month. It took effect July 1, 2021.
Supporters of the statute say it’s needed because, they say, some pregnancy centers lure unsuspecting women with problem pregnancies into their buildings and make an unexpected and unwelcome pitch to them not to get an abortion, which they note is a time-sensitive decision since it becomes more difficult to get an abortion the longer a pregnancy continues.
Opponents of the statute say crisis-pregnancy centers use standard marketing techniques to reach potential clients and offer products and services free of charge that pregnant women are free to accept or reject. They say the point of the statute is to provide a chilling effect on what amounts to competition for abortion facilities.
The Legal Context
The Connecticut case is called Pregnancy Support Center Inc. v. Tong. The dismissal date is Jan. 12, 2023.
In October 2021, as the Register reported last year, the company that operates the Christian crisis-pregnancy center in New London, a coastal city in southeastern Connecticut, filed its lawsuit in federal court, claiming the law violates the center’s free speech and free exercise of religion, which are guaranteed by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
No substantive filings had been made in the case in more than a year, according to the docket of the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut.
In the most recent one, in December 2021, lawyers for the attorney general’s office (the defendant in the case) denied that the law violates the constitutional rights of crisis-pregnancy centers.
The attorney general’s lawyers also questioned the “ripeness” of the lawsuit, a legal term that refers to whether the facts of a case have reached maturity into a substantial controversy justifying intervention by a court.
“In the absence of any allegations that Defendant has enforced or threatened to enforce the Act against it, Plaintiff’s allegations … that it is refraining from making certain statements on its website because it believes those statements may cause Defendant to bring an enforcement action under the Act are insufficient as a matter of law to establish an objective, non-speculative injury in fact to satisfy the ripeness requirements, especially in light of the fact that the Act entitles Plaintiff to notice of the alleged violation and ten days to cure it before an enforcement action is brought,” states the attorney general’s court filing, dated Dec. 7, 2021.
Activists Target Pregnancy Centers
Opposing pro-life pregnancy centers has become a priority for abortion supporters in the United States. In July 2022, U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., called for banning crisis-pregnancy centers.
“We need to shut them down here in Massachusetts, and we need to shut them down all around the country. You should not be able to torture a pregnant person like that,” Warren said.
Elected officials in seven Massachusetts municipalities have discussed measures similar to Connecticut’s during the past year.
In Cambridge, where Harvard University’s undergraduate college and law school are, city councilors this past fall sought to ban crisis-pregnancy centers. They gave up after getting a legal opinion that it would violate the federal Constitution to do so. But on Jan. 9, they passed an ordinance banning “deceptive advertising practices” by such centers, threatening a $300-a-day fine from the city’s licensing commission.
Nearby Somerville passed a comparable ordinance in March 2022.
Neither ordinance is likely to draw a legal challenge in the near future because neither city currently has a crisis-pregnancy center.
The Register contacted the Massachusetts Family Institute, which in September 2022 put together a coalition of several crisis-pregnancy centers in the state asking the state attorney general to protect them. Three pro-life pregnancy-resource centers in Massachusetts sustained overnight broken glass and graffiti during the summer of 2022.
Nationwide, several dozen crisis-pregnancy centers have sustained physical attacks since May 2022, when a draft version of the U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade leaked, according to a list compiled by the Family Research Center.
“Massachusetts Family Institute was pleased to hear that the Connecticut Attorney General admitted during litigation that there were no instances of deceptive advertising by crisis-pregnancy centers in Connecticut,” said Andrew Beckwith, president of the Massachusetts Family Institute, in a written statement through a spokesman. “That revelation just reinforces what MFI has been saying all along — the ‘deceptive advertising’ allegations that Planned Parenthood and their cronies spew against pro-life, pro-woman pregnancy resource centers have no basis in reality. They are a pretext for shutting down what the abortion industry sees as its most dangerous competitor.”