Conn. city agrees to exempt pro-life pregnancy center from sign ordinance
A mobile pro-life pregnancy clinic can operate in Connecticut’s capital city without having to adhere to an ordinance requiring that it post signs inside and outside the facility that imply that it does not have medical professionals on-site.
Caring Families Pregnancy Services Inc. and the City of Hartford recently agreed to a settlement over a lawsuit the pro-life clinic filed against the city over its Ordinance No. 25-17.
As part of the agreement, Caring Families will be exempted from the ordinance because it has licensed medical professionals on staff and will still be allowed to operate in the city.
For their part, the city will maintain the ordinance and will not have to admit liability in the case. Both sides agreed to cover their own legal expenses.
The settlement was reached last month but was only recently made public.
Both sides of the lawsuit have claimed victory.
“This resolution leaves our ordinance completely intact and enforceable,” Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin said, according to The Hartford Courant. “By settling in this way, the plaintiff chose not to pursue their challenge to the constitutionality of our ordinance, and we remain confident that our ordinance is constitutionally sound.”
Denise Harle, senior counsel with the Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative legal group representing Caring Families, said in a statement that the settlement allowed the pro-life clinic to operate in a way that does not “undermine their message.”
“Caring Families exists to help ensure that no woman feels alone, hopeless, or without options during an unexpected pregnancy,” stated Harle. “We commend the city for changing course and deciding not to use the force of law to make this pro-life care provider imply through its own communications that it is anything but competent and tolerant.”
In 2017, Hartford passed the ordinance compelling pro-life pregnancy centers that don’t perform or refer patients for abortions to post signs clarifying that they do not have a licensed medical professional on staff. The language of the ordinance accused the pro-life clinics of “false” and “misleading” advertising.
“When a woman is misled into believing that a clinic offers services that it does not in fact offer, she loses time crucial to the decision whether to terminate the pregnancy,” the ordinance argues.
In a statement at the time, Mayor Bronin said the ordinance is necessary to stop women from going to pro-life clinics rather than facilities that provided abortions.
“When women are making choices that affect their lives, their health, they deserve to have full information and they deserve to not be deceived about what services are provided,” said Bronin, according to NBC Connecticut.
“They’re going to have to put a sign up at the front door and at reception and they’re going to have to tell those women who are coming in for care and for counseling that they don’t have medical personnel. It's really pretty simple.”
In response, ADF filed a federal lawsuit in April 2019 on behalf of Caring Families. Caring Families operates a mobile care unit in the city. The organization argued at the time that it offers a wide range of services that don’t require supervision by a licensed medical provider.
Although the clinic has licensed medical providers on-site — either a registered nurse or a certified ultrasound technician — most of the time it is in operation, the clinic was "uncertain whether Hartford may apply the Compelled Speech provision to Mobile Care, because of the vague wording of the Ordinance and implementing Rule."
"In addition, there are times when Mobile Care’s licensed medical providers are
not on the premises," the lawsuit explains. "Under the Ordinance, Mobile Care would be required to make the burdensome Compelled Speech at all times — permanently posted both in and on its facility and on its website, and over the telephone in conversations with potential clients."
ADF argued that the ordinance was an unconstitutional violation of the First and 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.
“The ordinance exempts abortion clinics, community health clinics, and all other health care facilities within Hartford, except for pregnancy centers that do not offer abortion,” wrote Harle in a May 2019 letter to Hartford officials.
“The ordinance therefore unlawfully discriminates against organizations such as Caring Families that do not desire to perform, assist in, or refer for abortion services.”
According to the settlement, the city acknowledges that Caring Families offers medical services such as urine pregnancy tests and ultrasounds. Additionally, the city agrees that “because Caring Families has licensed medical personnel on-site at all times to provide and/or supervise such medical services, it does not consider Caring Families to be a ‘pregnancy services center’ under the Ordinance.”
“[The city] will therefore not attempt to enforce the Ordinance — as to either its required disclosures or its advertising requirements — against Caring Families,” the settlement states.
In 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a similar measure in a California law in its 5-4 ruling in the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates v. Becerra. The California law mandated that all licensed pregnancy health centers include a sign that refers patients to abortion clinics.