Lawmakers debate potential fines for pregnancy centers

Lawmakers debate potential fines for pregnancy centers

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The General Assembly is considering legislation that would fine pregnancy centers for “false, misleading or deceptive” advertising, similar to an ordinance passed in Hartford.

Supporters said it would prevent centers opposed to abortions from confusing pregnant women looking for options. Others questioned the need and motivation for the law.

Therese Ritchie, executive director of Hope Pregnancy Center in Cheshire, was concerned that her group was “being specifically singled out in this bill” despite assurances that they wouldn’t be affected.

House Bill 7070 would allow for fines or corrective advertisements for false or misleading advertisements or for not intending to provide advertised services. A similar bill was proposed in the senate.

During lengthy testimony before the General Assembly’s public health committee, supporters of the bill cited a pregnancy center in Hartford opposed to abortion that opened next to Hartford GYN Center, which performs abortions. Mayor Luke Bronin told lawmakers that the pregnancy center used deceptive practices which prompted a Hartford ordinance that requires notification of whether or not there are licensed medical providers on staff.

State Rep. Liz Linehan, D-Cheshire, also cited the Hartford pregnancy center in her testimony. She supported the bill, saying it wouldn’t affect places like Hope Pregnancy Center which she’s supported with donations.

“This bill is a consumer advocacy bill,” Linehan said. “It will simply ensure that other centers, especially those with a history of deceptive practices, are held to the same standard as those centers like Hope Pregnancy Center in Cheshire, so women have the freedom to make an informed choice when it comes to reproductive healthcare.”

State Rep. William Petit Jr., R-Plainville, a ranking member of the public health committee, said the hearing didn’t provide lot of information on the situation with crisis pregnancy centers.

“There’s lots of innuendo, a lot of accusations made. Not a lot of data,” he said.

The hearing didn’t convince Petit that the bill is needed. Existing consumer protection laws might be used to eliminate false advertising, he said. In the case of the Hartford center, advertising wasn’t used at all.

“Based on what I heard, I’m not convinced that it’s needed because deceptive advertising practices are covered under current statutes,” Petit said.

Sarah Croucher, Naral Pro Choice Connecticut executive director, said during testimony that some pregnancy centers in the state don’t make their opposition to abortion clear enough on their websites. Women seeking an abortion or emergency contraception can lose time with an organization that won’t provide the services they’re looking for.

During the public hearing, Ritchie said her group tells women that they don’t perform or refer abortions. The center has offered support to both pregnant women and those who have had abortions.

The bill before the legislature was part of a larger effort, Ritchie said.

“HPC is being targeted as part of a national campaign to discredit and eventually shut down organizations that assist thousands of pregnant women and their children every year in our state,” she said.

Hope Pregnancy Center is listed as a ministry of Oasis Church based in Cheshire.

A nearly identical bill last year also had a public hearing but wasn’t voted on by the public health committee.

Twitter: @JBuchananRJ

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