Pro-life pregnancy center sues Connecticut to halt 'deceptive' advertising law

Care Net Pregnancy Resource Center of Southeastern Connecticut based in New London, Connecticut | Care Net Pregnancy Resource Center of Southeastern Connecticut

A pro-life pregnancy care center in Connecticut has sued the state over a law that it claims will prohibit the organization from advertising services unless it promotes abortion.

Care Net Pregnancy Resource Center of Southeastern Connecticut, a faith-based organization located in New London, filed a suit against Connecticut Attorney General William Tong on Tuesday in U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut.

At issue is Connecticut Public Act 21-17, a measure that prevents pregnancy care centers that do not perform abortions from engaging in what it calls "deceptive" advertising. The legislation prohibits what it describes as "limited services pregnancy centers" from making "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."

Care Net alleged in the lawsuit that Public Act 21-17 "bans Care Net from communicating freely with the individuals it serves and with those it wishes to serve, unless Care Net agrees to provide abortions, dispense abortifacient drugs, or offer referrals for abortions or abortifacient drugs."

"The Act is a speaker-based, viewpoint-based law targeting the speech only of speakers espousing certain pro-life moral, religious, and philosophical beliefs," read the suit, in part.

"To stop this imminent irreparable harm, Care Net asks this Court to enjoin enforcement of the Act and to declare it unconstitutional, so Care Net may freely speak its beliefs, freely exercise its faith, and freely serve the women of Connecticut who may wish to benefit from its free support services."

The complaint also states that Connecticut already has a law prohibiting deceptive and unfair practices from various entities, known as Connecticut's Unfair Trade Practices Act, or CUTPA.

"CUTPA does not single out the speech of certain types of entities, and it applies to Care Net and other pro-life pregnancy centers," added the lawsuit.

Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative legal group that has won religious freedom cases at the U.S. Supreme Court, is representing Care Net in its legal proceedings.

ADF Senior Counsel Denise Harle said in a statement that she believes the state law "impedes women's ability to receive critical services during a very difficult time in their lives."

Further, Harle argues that the law "suppresses the free-speech rights of Care Net and other faith-based pregnancy centers serving women in the community, and punishes those who abide by their religious beliefs."

"This law allows the state attorney general to decide if he likes what you're saying, and if he doesn't, you must 'correct' it or be punished," she added.

"The Supreme Court has made it clear that the government can't target certain messages because it doesn't like a particular viewpoint. Care Net should have the freedom to continue serving women in southeastern Connecticut without government censorship."

Originally known as Senate Bill 835, or "An Act Concerning Deceptive Advertising Practices of Limited Services Pregnancy Centers," Public Act 21-17 took effect on July 1 after Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont signed it into law in May.

Lamont contends that the law should have the support of people regardless of their views on the abortion debate because it is "abhorrent for anyone to advertise healthcare services they cannot or do not provide and give information to someone with the intention of misleading them."

Lamont maintains that the law "in no way prohibits anyone from practicing their constitutionally protected, faith-based beliefs."

"Rather, all this law does is make it clear that if you do not offer certain types of services or referrals to these services, then you cannot deceive the public by saying you do," he continued.

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