A faith-based pro-life pregnancy care center is asking the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to stop a Connecticut city from engaging in what it calls “unlawful discrimination” through a new ordinance aimed at them for refusing to perform abortions.
Caring Families Pregnancy Services Inc. is suing the city of Hartford over an ordinance enacted in October 2018 mandating that pro-life clinics post signs at their entrances stating that they do not “have a licensed medical provider on-site to provide or supervise all services” because they do not provide abortions.
The Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative religious liberty law firm, sent a complaint letter to HHS on Tuesday requesting action on the part of the federal department.
“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 Denise Harle of ADF.
“The ordinance therefore unlawfully discriminates against organizations such as Caring Families that do not desire to perform, assist in, or refer for abortion services.”
In April, ADF filed a lawsuit in district court on behalf of Caring Families and its Mobile Care branch, arguing that the city is “interfering with certain views about life, pregnancy, and motherhood.”
“Hartford has thus crafted a speaker-based, viewpoint-based law targeting the speech only of speakers espousing certain pro-life moral, religious, and philosophical beliefs,” noted the lawsuit.
“Although Mobile Care has a licensed medical provider — either a registered nurse or a certified ultrasound technician, or both — on its unit at most times it is in operation, Mobile Care is uncertain whether Hartford may apply the Compelled Speech provision to Mobile Care, because of the vague wording of the ordinance and implementing rule.”
In September 2018, Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin announced the creation of a local ordinance called the Pregnancy Information Disclosure and Protection Ordinance Rule.
The ordinance compels pro-life pregnancy centers to post signs at all entryways in English and Spanish that explain that they do not have a licensed medical professional on staff due to their refusal to perform abortions.
“Every pregnancy services center must post the signs at every public entrance,” read the ordinance in part.
“If the pregnancy services center is located in an office building or other structure containing two or more independent units, the signs must be posted at each entrance used exclusively for entry to the pregnancy services center.”
The disclaimer compelled by the local ordinance must also appear on pro-life center websites and be mentioned in telephone communication.
In a statement, Mayor Bronin said the new ordinance was necessary to prevent women from going into pro-life clinics rather than facilities that provide 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 June 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in National Institute of Family and Life Advocates v. Becerra that a California law compelling pro-life pregnancy centers to refer people to abortion providers “unduly burdens protected speech.”
"The unlicensed notice imposes a government-scripted, speaker-based disclosure requirement that is wholly disconnected from California's informational interest," wrote Justice Clarence Thomas for the majority.
"California has offered no justification that the notice plausibly furthers. It targets speakers, not speech, and imposes an unduly burdensome disclosure requirement that will chill their protected speech."