Do You Help Pregnant Women? There’s a Fine for That.
“Dear Pro-Life friends: what have you done to support lower income single mothers? I’ll wait.” That’s the now-famously backfired challenge from journalist Sarah Tuttle-Singer, but she’s not the first or last to ask the rhetorically loaded question.
The reality—which tends to differ significantly from the pro-abortion narrative—is that most pro-life people in this country do quite a bit to help single mothers and moms-to-be. That kind of life-affirming help comes at a cost, but especially in places like Hartford, Conn., where local lawmakers are trying to steer women away from the care of local pregnancy centers.
Let’s take a look.
Caring Family Pregnancy Services is a private, faith-based, non-profit organization that offers free pregnancy testing, ultrasounds, options counseling, adoption referrals, parenting classes, Bible studies, support groups, and material resources like baby clothes, diapers, cribs, and car seats to women in the Hartford area. Caring Families also runs a mobile pregnancy care center called Mobile Care, which roves the area, making regularly scheduled visits to Hartford and other communities in Connecticut.
While many women resort to abortion because they feel it is their only option, Caring Families is there to provide them with life-affirming help and services to show them that there is a better way.
With the endless demands on cities to provide services, you’d think Caring Families would be welcomed by Hartford and treated as the good servants they are. But rather than celebrating those within the community who help and support their neighbors in need, Hartford is doing everything it can to rid itself of alternatives to abortion like those Caring Families offers.
In October 2018, Hartford enacted an ordinance that forces Caring Families and its affiliated mobile care ministry to make misleading statements using signs inside and outside the facility, on its website, and in telephone conversations with clients.
Ordinance No. 25-17 applies only to pro-life organizations. The forced signage and conversations are dictated by the city and wrongly imply that the centers are not qualified to provide the free services they offer because there is not a medical provider on site at all times. The city threatens $100 per day in fines for noncompliance with the ordinance.
If this sounds familiar, it’s because it is. In 2015, the state of California passed a similar law in an attempt to force pro-life pregnancy centers to post disclaimers that crowded out the life-affirming language in their advertisements and forced them to advertise abortion facilities to the women they were seeking to serve. ADF brought a lawsuit on behalf of the centers, National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA) v. Becerra, which made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court in 2018. And it was a win: the Court ruled in a 5-4 decision that California was illegally targeting pro-life pregnancy centers and violating their free speech rights.
Incredibly, the Hartford ordinance went into effect four months after the NIFLA decision.
So on April 18, 2019, Alliance Defending Freedom filed a complaint in federal court on behalf of Caring Families. And earlier this week, ADF filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Civil Rights to report discrimination against the life-affirming, faith-based pregnancy center. The complaint challenges government censorship and coercion.
These legal actions are well grounded: In addition to the Supreme Court ruling in NIFLA, the federal Church and Weldon amendments do not allow states to compel medical personnel to operate contrary to their conscience or religious beliefs. Over the years, ADF has filed complaints with OCR and, based on those complaints, HHS has investigated discrimination against ADF clients in Hawaii, New York, and California. In January 2018, HHS created the Division on Conscience and Religious Freedom within OCR to address growing concerns over government overreach and freedom of religion and conscience.
ADF Legal Counsel Denise Harle puts it this way:
The city of Hartford has no business steering women away from life-affirming help. Caring Families exists to help ensure that no woman feels alone, hopeless, or without options during an unexpected pregnancy, and the city shouldn’t be using the force of law to make this pro-life care provider imply through its own communications that it is anything but competent and tolerant. Federal laws protect against this kind of ideologically driven harassment. That’s why we’re asking HHS to protect pregnancy centers from hostile regulation that singles them out.
The caring people at Caring Families deserve far better than the intolerance and disrespect that Hartford has given them. Tolerance and respect for good‐faith differences of opinion are essential in a diverse society like ours. And a little tolerance from the city would free Caring Families to serve women and offer the support they need without fear of unjust government punishment.