Pro-Life Pregnancy Center Won’t Be Forced to Speak Against Its Mission

By Maureen Collins

Caring Families Pregnancy Services has been giving a voice to women facing unplanned pregnancies for over 30 years.

“We know how important it is for our clients to write their own stories,” says the pregnancy center’s website. But while Caring Families works 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 city law that required pregnancy centers to speak misleading messages that undermine its mission. 

Let’s take a more in-depth look at the details of this case.

Caring Families Pregnancy Services

Caring Families Pregnancy Services is a private, faith-based, non-profit 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. 

Caring Families v. City of Hartford

In 2017, the city of Hartford passed Ordinance No. 25-17—a law that forces pro-life pregnancy centers to post signs and begin conversations with a government-scripted disclaimer. The disclaimer incorrectly implies 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 faces fined of up to $100 each day that it refused.

This is a lot like the California law the 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

Hartford’s ordinance threatened Caring Families’ free speech rights. So, with the help of ADF attorneys, Caring Families filed a lawsuit against the city of Hartford, challenging its unconstitutional law.

Caring Families filed its lawsuit in April 2019, challenging the City of Hartford’s ordinance in federal court. Thankfully, in July 2020, city officials clarified what services are considered medical and conceded that the law does not apply to Caring Families, because they always have medical personnel on site when providing any medical services to women. Based on this understanding the parties jointly dismissed the case.

Caring Families has been serving women and families in and around the Hartford, Connecticut, area since 1986.

Standing for every person’s right to speak freely

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 other cases, that compelled speech of this sort is unconstitutional.

The bottom line is that pregnancy centers should be free to serve women and offer the support they need without fear of unjust government punishment.

Maureen Collins is a writer for ADF Legal.