Faith-Based Pregnancy Center Files Federal Lawsuit to Protect Free Speech

Very Pregnant Woman
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A Connecticut faith-based pregnancy care center has filed a lawsuit in federal court against the city of Hartford over its ordinance that is compelling the pro-life ministry to disclose whether its staff holds medical licenses.

Pro-life ministry Caring Families Pregnancy Services filed the lawsuit Thursday in U.S. District Court, seeking an injunction to stop enforcement of the ordinance that compels the pregnancy center and its Mobile Care ministry to post signs and messages stating, “This facility does not have a licensed medical provider on site to provide or supervise all services.”

“These compelled statements incorrectly imply that Mobile Care is not qualified to provide the free services it offers,” states the complaint, adding:

No other entities are required to post the signs or make the verbal statements. Hartford exempts abortion clinics, community health centers, and all other health care entities from the Ordinance.

Hartford exempts all other entities besides pro-life pregnancy resource centers, even if those other entities meet all the criteria that Hartford is purportedly concerned about.

The lawsuit, filed by Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), which represents the pregnancy center, notes the ministry offers many services and faith supports that “do not require supervision by a licensed medical provider.”

Caring Families provides ultrasounds, pregnancy testing, counseling, adoption referrals, parenting support, diapers, and Bible study groups.

“The practical result of enforcing the Ordinance’s Compelled Speech provision would be not only to inhibit a religious ministry from furthering its mission and message but also to force religious speakers to speak messages with misleading, confusing and negative implications,” the lawsuit states.

“The ordinance is similar to portions of a California law that the U.S. Supreme Court struck down last year in National Institute of Family and Life Advocates v. Becerra,” ADF said in a press statement.

Howard Rifkin, Hartford’s corporation counsel, denied the ordinance violates any constitutionally-protected freedoms.

“The ordinance is carefully crafted and does not attempt to impinge upon free speech or freedom of religion,” he said, reported The Connecticut Mirror. “Rather, it seeks to ensure that women seeking reproductive counseling and services are fully informed about the nature of the services provided by these centers. The city of Hartford will vigorously defend this ordinance.”

However, Kevin Theriot, ADF senior counsel, said Hartford “has no business steering women away from life-affirming help.”

“The U.S. Supreme Court ruled just last year that pro-life pregnancy centers should be free to serve women without unjust government punishment,” he continued. “Hartford’s law only makes it harder for women to seek out all of their options and obtain support. That’s why we’re filing a lawsuit to protect pregnancy centers from hostile regulation that singles them out.”

The lawsuit is filed as Connecticut’s Democrat-led legislature has advanced a bill out of committee that would regulate all pregnancy care centers across the state in the same way.

During a committee hearing of H.B. 7070, Democrat State Rep. Liz Linehan said the faith-based centers “operate with the appearance of a medical facility and advertise to people as though they offer abortion and emergency contraception, when they are actually opposed to these services,” reported The Connecticut Mirror.

Linehan said the faith-based facilities “lure” women who are “in a vulnerable state, looking to receive time-sensitive, sensitive health care information from qualified individuals.”

Peter Wolfgang, who heads the Family Institute of Connecticut — which opposes the Hartford law and the proposed state-wide legislation — welcomed the lawsuit.

“We told the city that they would likely be sued for targeting the free speech of pro-lifers and that they would likely lose in court,” he said in an email statement. “We are gratified to see that our first prediction has come true. We hope the second one does, too.”

The case is Caring Families Pregnancy Services Inc v. City of Hartford, No. 3:19-cv-00584, in U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut.

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