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Censorship and Lies: Vermont Targets Pro-Life Pregnancy Centers

A new Vermont law would censor pro-life pregnancy centers and their workers. ADF is defending their right to help women without unjust government interference.
Alliance Defending Freedom
Branches Pregnancy Resource Center

Since the Dobbs decision overturning Roe v. Wade, numerous pregnancy resource centers have been attacked (like ADF client CompassCare in New York), and government officials such as Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren have maligned their motives.

Such accusations are tragic because the lies and misinformation spread about pregnancy resource centers ignore the very real good that these centers accomplish day in and day out.

Just ask Jean Marie Davis.

For 20 years, Jean Marie was trafficked across 33 states. She remembers witnessing a fellow trafficking victim give birth on the sidewalk but then have to get up and continue working for her trafficker. “I could not help or do anything because my trafficker would have punished me,” Jean Marie recalls.

Eventually, Jean Marie discovered that she too was pregnant. She decided to flee from her traffickers, and she wound up at a domestic violence shelter in New Hampshire. While she was there, the shelter referred her to a pregnancy center, which provided her with clothes, an ultrasound, and other resources. After seeing her ultrasound and receiving help from the pregnancy center, Jean Marie chose life for her baby boy. After her son was born, the pregnancy center continued to help her, offering her a program for women and children with drug problems.

Jean Marie later testified, “Because of the pregnancy resource center, I not only graduated from the woman’s program. I went to Northpoint Bible College and graduated with an associate degree.”

Eight years after she was a client at a pregnancy resource center, she became the director of one—Branches Pregnancy Resource Center in Brattleboro, Vermont—where she serves today to help those in situations like hers.

Stories of trafficking like Jean Marie’s are not uncommon, and pregnancy resource centers play a significant role in supporting women in need.

But a new Vermont law is threatening pro-life pregnancy resource centers like Branches, infringing on their ability to provide support to women and families seeking help with an unplanned pregnancy.

Because these pro-life pregnancy centers do not refer or provide information about abortion services, the law censors them, placing immense restrictions on their ability to provide information, counseling, and other non-medical services.

Read below to learn about how Alliance Defending Freedom is advocating for these pregnancy centers to be free to serve women and offer the support they need without fear of unjust government punishment.

What are NIFLA, Aspire Now, and Branches Pregnancy Resource Center?

ADF is representing three clients in this lawsuit: the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA), Aspire Now, and Branches Pregnancy Resource Center.

NIFLA is a religious nonprofit representing over 1,600 pro-life pregnancy centers across the nation, 1,200 of which are licensed medical clinics. ADF has previously represented NIFLA all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled that pregnancy centers can’t be forced to say something that goes against their very mission.

NIFLA has seven member centers in Vermont, including Aspire Now and Branches. These centers offer women both medical and non-medical information and services free of charge. And because they are pro-life, they do not provide or refer for abortion or abortion-causing drugs.

National Institute of Family and Life Advocates v. Clark

On May 10, 2023, Vermont Gov. Phil Scott signed Senate Bill No. 37 (SB 37) into law. SB 37 impedes the ability of pro-life pregnancy centers to continue providing help and support to Vermont women and families in two ways: First, it censors the centers’ ability to advertise their free services. Second, it precludes centers from offering services, information, and counseling unless provided by a licensed health-care provider.

The law is vague and explicitly targets pro-life pregnancy centers, applying only to facilities that do not perform or refer for abortions. It does not define what might violate the law and provides no guidance as to how that standard should be applied. For example, one witness during a legislative hearing suggested that even naming a pregnancy center “The Women’s Center” could violate the law, claiming that a name like that is too neutral and implies it offers abortions.

If a pregnancy center were to advertise its services in a way Vermont’s pro-abortion attorney general says is “misleading,” the center would face fines of up to $10,000 for each violation. And if an individual who is not a state-licensed medical professional were to provide health information, services, or counseling, the medical doctors (M.D.s) at that facility could be fined up to $1,000, and other licensed health-care professionals could be fined up to $5,000.

It’s clear that Vermont is explicitly targeting pro-life pregnancy centers, all because they don’t support the state’s extreme pro-abortion agenda. That’s why ADF is challenging this unjust law. Pregnancy centers should be able to provide free services, resources, and community to families facing unexpected pregnancies without fear of unjust government punishment.

What’s at stake?

The Supreme Court already ruled in NIFLA that pro‐life pregnancy centers should be free to serve women without unjust government punishment or government interference with their message.

By painting a target for litigation on pregnancy centers, these laws only make it harder for women to seek out all their options and get the support they need and deserve.

Case timeline

  • May 2023: Vermont Gov. Phil Scott signed Senate Bill No. 37 into law, infringing on the ability of pro-life pregnancy centers to provide support to women and families seeking help with an unplanned pregnancy.
  • July 2023: ADF filed a complaint on behalf of NIFLA and two of its Vermont pregnancy centers, Aspire Now and Branches Pregnancy Resource Center, challenging SB 37.

The bottom line

Pregnancy centers should be free to serve women and offer the support they need without fear of unjust government punishment.