HB 5416: Protecting pregnant women or infringing on free speech?

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Connecticut House Bill No. 5416 proposes to prohibit deceptive advertising practices of “limited services pregnancy centers” which it defines as pregnancy services centers that “do not provide referrals to clients for abortions or emergency contraception.” The bill has generated both strong support and opposition from the medical and religious communities. Below are excerpts from a sampling of public testimony from people and organizations that oppose or support the legislation. All of the public testimony is available here.

Jeremy Bradley, Executive Director of Caring Families Pregnancy Services:

As the Executive Director of this non- profit organization that has provided help, care and support to women for over 31 years in Connecticut, I find this proposed bill dangerous on a couple of levels.

First, this bill is being proposed to restrict “false advertising” from Pregnancy Care Centers in Connecticut. While it seems “nice” to try and restrict deceptive advertising, the reality of the situation is this: There has been no reported or documented cases of any specific instances of False Advertising in Connecticut. Also, there are currently laws already on the books that are there to protect Connecticut residents from deceptive practices from all sorts of businesses and should be utilized. In addition, Pregnancy Care Centers, and only Pregnancy Care Centers are being “targeted” in this legislation. While there are many other organizations that are crucial to providing woman care, Pregnancy Care Centers are the only institution being looked at. Why is that?

This is where the second dangerous part of the bill becomes apparent. H.B. 5416 is written in such a way to infringe on the Constitutional rights provided to citizens in our First Amendment. Many of the Pregnancy Care Centers nationwide are comprised of staff and volunteers who hold personal, religious and moral values, and having the State of Connecticut obtain power to restrict the personal speech and religious values of any organization is contrary to the shared values we all have as citizens.

Polly C. Moran, MSN, Certified Nurse-Midwife, President CT-Affiliate of American College of Nurse-Midwives:

I strongly support the efforts of legislators to safeguard the women of our community from entities such as the Crisis Pregnancy Center who deliberately mislead our patients and community members. I understand that many organizations can and do support and work with women; it is very important that it is clear to those same women, what those organizations do and don’t do.

This bill is about transparency and full disclosure. H.B. 5416 it is about making sure that women in my community are aware that the CPCs are unlicensed, unregulated, and are not health clinics, despite deliberate efforts by these clinics to portray themselves as something that they are not.

The issue at hand is not only about misrepresentation, or deliberately choosing sites to confuse women by setting up parallel “clinics” to other licensed reproductive health care offices next door. Crisis Pregnancy Centers can delay care or obstruct women from getting the care and information on the very health issues for which they are seeking care. These delays have health consequences. There are many ways women can avoid unwanted pregnancies.

Having access to a medication taken during a short time frame after unprotected intercourse can be a very effective method to prevent pregnancy. CPCs do not offer those services. Medical terminations can take place during the first seven weeks post conception; these early terminations avoid anesthesia, surgical settings, and can be done at home. If women go beyond that time frame, this is no longer an option. Certain screenings done by licensed professionals trained in caring for women may discover complications, including miscarriage or ectopic pregnancies. CPCs are unregulated, do not need to conform to HIPPA, and can provoke unnecessary health risks.

Susan C Baker BS, RN Nurse Manager Care Net Pregnancy Resource Center of SECT:

I am intimately familiar with all the centers in the state because we work together to ensure the highest level of care for our clients. This bill is nothing more than our representatives allowing the pro-abortion lobby to attack, bully and try to silence those who are pro-life. Let us look at some facts:

-There has never been any credible evidence that clients at PRCs are currently being deceived by their advertising. Please check our web sites for yourself. The one I work at is www.carenetsect.org

-Our clients have consistently given a 99 percent approval rating and our services are provided free because we are supported by thousands of Connecticut residents who believe in the work we are doing and know how much help we provide to women and children.

-The language in this bill is very ambiguous. What is considered deceptive and who makes that decision? What is ‘corrective advertising’ if their ads are deemed deceptive. Doesn’t this put pro-abortionists in charge of the advertising for pro-lifers?

-Most of our clients are already seeking alternatives to abortion which is why they come to us. They want facts and real choices and that is what we give them. We give them scientific, factual information in all our counseling and literature.

-Pro-choice groups nationwide consider pregnancy resource centers to be competition and this is their attempt to discredit and silence them.

-This bill is a waste of time and money because if there was actually false advertising going on there are already laws to handle that.

Lauren Yang, Hartford:

I testify in strong support of H.B. 5416 An Act Concerning Deceptive Advertising Practices of Limited Services Pregnancy Centers. Please see below for the reasons why I believe this bill should pass:

  1. Since when did lying to any patients become acceptable?
  2. If I made an appointment at business A, why is business B telling me I made the appointment with them when I didn’t and waste my time and business A’s?
  3. Since when did religious/personal beliefs cross the line of deceiving and manipulating patients who are seeking medical help?
  4. Why should any patient feel uncomfortable or threatened on their way to a doctor’s appointment?
  5. If I was going to a dentist office for wisdom teeth surgery, why is a teeth whitening office telling me I made an appointment with them and they tell me it’s wrong to extract my tooth because it was given to me by God? How is this any different than CPCs telling patients they can’t get the medical treatment they need based on CPCs’ own beliefs?
  6. If I’m searching for a doctor’s office online, I’m looking for a doctor’s office in the search results, NOT a business that asks me “Are you looking for a doctor? We can help you” and not actually have doctors.

Daniel O’Neill, Medical Director of A Better Choice Pregnancy Center in Middletown and the Women’s Center of Eastern Connecticut in Willimantic; Assistant Clinical Professor, UConn School of Medicine:

I am writing in opposition to H.B. 5416 because it is prejudiced, costly, and will lead to the suppression of free speech.

As a family medicine physician licensed and practicing in the state, I oversee the other licensed medical staff in the provision of pregnancy testing and interpret the ultrasounds performed by certified ultrasonographers through these centers. I also ensure that the centers provide educational materials in keeping with the best evidence-based medicine and practice fully within our training according to state law.  The centers only advertise what services they provide.

H.B. 5416 contains many false assumptions about what they define as “limited services pregnancy centers.”(?) The first is that categorically they provide deceptive practices for which the cost and burden of new legislation is warranted. This prejudice singles out these centers, when legislation against false advertising is already in place equally for all businesses and non-profits. The second is that the language on what constitutes “false, misleading or deceptive” [section 2 (1)] is vague.  This would require legal wrangling for enforcement that the State cannot afford.

H.B. 5416 panders to the aggressive pro-abortion organizations that have pushed this bill before you based on unjust prejudice and a desire to suppress free speech. These pregnancy service centers, singularly targeted by this bill, indeed provide accurate information on pregnancy status, all pregnancy options, including abortion, and support women regardless of her decision regarding the pregnancy. They provide a valuable service to communities for early detection of pregnancy, earlier referrals for prenatal care, and social support throughout the decision-making and pregnancy process.

Jenna Lupi, Co-Chair, Advocacy Committee CT Public Health Association:

The Connecticut Public Health Association (CPHA) strongly endorses House Bill 5416

Access to comprehensive reproductive healthcare has been consistently demonstrated as critical not only to the health of women, but to children, families, and communities. Decisions regarding pregnancy are especially critical, and women must fully understand their options in order to choose the best ones for their health. This bill seeks to ensure transparency and honesty in the advertising practices of organizations purporting to help women make those decisions. It is therefore vital that any organization offering such services be transparent and honest about the available options. When someone is seeking a clinic, they should be able to find one without confusion or deception.

It is a threat to public health in our state when people are deceived, delayed, or blocked in finding the time-sensitive reproductive healthcare they are seeking. When CPCs deliberately confuse, deceive, and delay people in finding comprehensive medical care, this can result in serious harm.

A patient may miss the opportunity to use emergency contraception which is only effective within a specific time frame after unprotected sex. She may miss the window to access an early medication abortion, or the window to access an abortion altogether. A patient may miss the opportunity to receive early prenatal care to monitor the pregnancy and to identify any potentially serious health problems including treatment for miscarriage or an ectopic pregnancy.

Unlike reproductive healthcare clinics, CPCs are unregulated by the state. When patients are following up on deceptive advertisements by CPCs, they are likely seeking a reproductive health clinic. When patients enter a clinic and disclose personal and medical information, they expect confidentiality. At CPCs, patient-provider confidentiality is not required. In Connecticut, a majority of CPCs operate in municipalities with existing reproductive healthcare providers. Sometimes CPCs are even located down the street or directly across from a clinic. It is important that clear and honest advertising of services is the standard practice so that women can seek appropriate care in a timely way.

As CPHA is strongly focused on health equity, one of our biggest concerns is that CPCs intentionally locate in low-income communities, communities of color, and near colleges and universities. As we work hard as a state to improve health equity and reduce disparities, CPCs are intentionally working to prevent specific communities from making fully-informed choices about their health. This is a practice that must stop if we are to improve the disparities that hold us back as a state.


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