Caring Families Pregnancy Services has been giving a voice to women facing unplanned pregnancies for over 30 years.
Caring Families works to give the clients it serves an opportunity to write their own stories. But while Caring Families strives to give its clients a voice, the city of Hartford tried to silence the pregnancy center—or at least drown out its voice—by passing a law that required pregnancy care centers to speak misleading messages that undermine its mission.
Let’s take a more in-depth look at the details of this case.
What is Caring Families Pregnancy Services?
Caring Families Pregnancy Services is a private, faith-based, nonprofit organization that gives women and families the support they need to choose life for their babies.
It offers many important services, including free pregnancy testing, ultrasounds, options counseling, adoption referrals, parenting classes, Bible studies, and support groups. Caring Families also offers expectant and new mothers important material resources like baby clothes, diapers, cribs, and car seats. In order to reach more women in need, Caring Families even runs a mobile pregnancy center called MobileCare, which makes regularly scheduled visits to Hartford and other communities in Connecticut.
The mission of Caring Families is to bring hope to women who may feel like abortion is their only option and to empower those women to make life-affirming choices.
In 2017, the city of Hartford passed Ordinance No. 25-17—a law that forced pro-life pregnancy centers to post signs and begin conversations with a government-scripted disclaimer. The disclaimer incorrectly implied that the centers are not qualified to provide the free services they offer because there is not a licensed medical professional on site at all times. But many of the various free services Caring Families provides can be done safely, effectively, and lawfully without a medical professional present.
If Caring Families did not post this sign, it faced fines of up to $100 each day. Furthermore, the ordinance didn’t apply to places providing abortion; it only applied to pro-life pregnancy centers. The city was openly hostile to pro-life views.
Hartford’s ordinance resembled the California law the U.S. Supreme Court struck down in National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA) v. Becerra in 2018. That law forced pro-life pregnancy centers to refer for abortions. Just like the California law, Hartford’s law specifically targeted pro-life pregnancy centers and forced them to speak a message that hurts their own mission.
“Hartford claims it’s promoting comprehensive information about health care but only interferes with specific views about life, pregnancy, motherhood—a double standard that’s both troubling and unconstitutional,” said ADF Senior Counsel Denise Harle, director of the ADF Center for Life.
Hartford’s ordinance threatened Caring Families’ free-speech rights. So, with the help of Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys, Caring Families filed a lawsuit against the city of Hartford, challenging its unconstitutional law.
What's at stake?
Every American has the right to speak freely. It’s protected by the First Amendment.
We usually think about violations of free speech as censorship—the government preventing someone from saying something. But it can be violated in the other direction, too: the government forcing someone to express something against their beliefs.
This is compelled speech. And the U.S. Supreme Court made clear in its 2018 decision in NIFLA v. Becerra, and numerous previous cases, that compelled speech of this sort is unconstitutional.
- April 2019: Caring Families filed its lawsuit, challenging the City of Hartford’s ordinance in federal court.
- May 2019: ADF attorneys filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Civil Rights to report discrimination against the pregnancy center.
- July 2020: City officials clarified what services are considered medical and conceded that the law does not apply to Caring Families because the center always has medical personnel on site when providing any medical services to women. Based on this understanding the parties jointly dismissed the case.
As the settlement agreement in Caring Families v. City of Hartford states, “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 and will therefore not attempt to enforce the Ordinance—as to either its required disclosures or its advertising requirements—against Caring Families.”
The settlement prompted ADF attorneys representing the center, Caring Families, and attorneys representing the city to jointly and voluntarily dismiss the lawsuit. “Hartford’s law only made it harder for women to seek out all of their options and obtain support,” said ADF Senior Counsel Kevin Theriot. “The city was wise to abandon enforcement of a hostile regulation that singled them out.”
“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,” Harle added.
The bottom line
Pregnancy centers should be free to serve women and offer the support they need without fear of unjust government punishment.