by Mary Szoch
February 15, 2021
Last week, the Connecticut State Senate considered SB 835, “An Act Concerning Deceptive Advertising Practices of Limited Services Pregnancy Centers.” Contrary to its title, this bill is not about deceptive advertising. In fact, there is no substantial evidence that clients seeking services at Connecticut pregnancy resource centers (PRCs) have been or currently are being deceived. No, this bill is about silencing PRCs.
SB 835 singles out PRCs as the only organizations that are required to prevent advertising they know “or reasonably should know” to be deceptive “whether by statement or omission.” The legislation places the pro-abortion attorney general—who testified in favor of the legislation—as the arbitrator of “deceptive advertising,” and gives him the authority to force PRCs to “correct” their advertising and pay a fine.
This bill is a clear violation of the First Amendment rights of PRCs. It makes it harder for women who are unexpectedly pregnant to know what their choices are, and it places the state in the position of promoting abortion over childbirth.
Despite what this bill implies, there are already many generally applicable laws at the state and federal level preventing deceptive advertising. What makes SB 835 unique is that it deliberately—and unjustly—singles out PRCs as the only organizations required to prevent advertising they know “or reasonably should know to be deceptive.” Nothing in the bill prevents abortion businesses from engaging in deceptive advertising practices. For example, Planned Parenthood—whose very name implies that a pregnant woman visiting the clinic will receive balanced information regarding the resources available to her if she would like to parent—is not obligated in any way to clarify in their advertising that their core mission is expanding abortion. PRCs are targeted for one reason only—to stifle their speech.
If this were just another deceptive advertising law, it would not target an ideologically unified group of service providers who take a position on one of the most controversial topics in the country. SB 835’s vague wording—“whether by statement or omission”—allows the pro-abortion attorney general (who is so pro-abortion and anti-woman that he doesn’t think abortionists should be required to have hospital admitting privileges) to decide which words a PRC omitted. Clearly, the attorney general is attempting to bully PRCs into only advertising what he would choose to advertise—which is definitely not help and support for women who feel pressured into having an abortion. This is an intimidation practice with the prevention of pro-life speech as its goal. It is unconstitutional.
In 2018, California passed a law that forced PRCs to 1) advertise that the state offered free abortions and 2) post a notice stating they were not medical providers. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that California’s law was unconstitutional and prohibited the state from directly demanding this speech. Although SB 835 is not directly demanding speech from PRCs, through the vague wording “by statement or omission,” it is indirectly attempting to force them to make those same statements. The Supreme Court has already ruled this is unconstitutional.
Singling out PRCs for heavy fines because they do not provide or refer for abortions compels them to advertise in a way that significantly limits their potential clients. Many women who find themselves unexpectedly pregnant feel afraid, alone, and unsure of where to turn. PRCs do not coerce women into giving birth. Rather, they give a woman all the information available to her and allow the woman to make her own decision, knowing that she can always turn to the PRC for support.
Unlike abortion businesses, PRCs do not make money when a client chooses life. In 2019, PRCs provided $270 million in services at virtually no charge, and they provided services to women regardless of whether they chose life or abortion, offering more than 21,000 women post-abortion healing services.
PRCs do not exist to make a profit; they exist because they care about women and their children. According to a Guttmacher Institute study, women most frequently choose to have abortions because having a child would “interfere with a woman’s education, work or ability to care for dependents (74%); that she could not afford a baby now (74%), and that she did not want to be a single mother or was having relationship problems (48%).” The resources offered by PRCs help women rise above and change these circumstances. The support of PRCs empowers women to choose life for their children.
There is no good reason to attack centers that have such a positive impact on society. Doing so places the state in the position of promoting abortion practices—who stand to profit from a woman’s decision to have an abortion—above centers offering women the tools they need to choose life.
The Connecticut state legislature should recognize that SB 835 is an attack on one of the foundations of American liberty—freedom of speech—and as such, it is unconstitutional. More importantly, the state legislature should recognize that SB 835 harms women in need.