Care Net Pregnancy Resource Center of Southeastern Connecticut v. Tong
Description: A Connecticut law targets pro-life pregnancy centers as “limited services” providers because they do not refer for or perform abortions. Care Net Pregnancy Resource Center of Southeastern Connecticut filed a federal lawsuit to challenge this law and be able to continue providing critical services to women without fear of discrimination based on the center’s pro-life views. Under the law, the state attorney general has the authority to decide whether Care Net is engaging in “deceptive advertising” because of its life-affirming message based on its religious beliefs. Then the attorney general can force the center to adopt “corrective advertising” or face fines or lawsuits.
Connecticut pro-life pregnancy center fights to protect free speech
HARTFORD, Conn. – Attorneys with Alliance Defending Freedom filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday to allow a faith-based pregnancy center in New London to continue providing critical services to women without fear of discrimination based on the center’s pro-life views. Care Net Pregnancy Resource Center of Southeastern Connecticut is challenging a state law that targets pro-life pregnancy centers by forcing them to comply with state-approved speech or face punishment.
The law targets pro-life pregnancy centers as “limited services” providers because they do not refer or perform abortions. Under the law, the state attorney general has the authority to decide whether Care Net is engaging in “deceptive advertising” because of its life-affirming message based on its religious beliefs. Then the attorney general can force the center to adopt “corrective advertising” or face fines and lawsuits. The law excludes from the speech regulation other pregnancy-related centers that only offer “limited services,” such as abortion clinics that do not offer prenatal ultrasounds or obstetric services.
“Women who become unexpectedly pregnant should be empowered with life-affirming options, emotional support, and practical resources,” said ADF Senior Counsel Denise Harle. “This law, however, does the opposite—it impedes women’s ability to receive critical services during a very difficult time in their lives, suppresses the free-speech rights of Care Net and other faith-based pregnancy centers serving women in the community, and punishes those who abide by their religious beliefs.”
“This law allows the state attorney general to decide if he likes what you’re saying, and if he doesn’t, you must ‘correct’ it or be punished,” Harle added. “The Supreme Court has made it clear that the government can’t target certain messages because it doesn’t like a particular viewpoint. Care Net should have the freedom to continue serving women in southeastern Connecticut without government censorship.”
ADF reached a successful settlement in a similar Connecticut case when the city of Hartford agreed that a faith-based pregnancy center isn’t subject to a law that would have forced the center to post materials that undermine its life-affirming message.
Craig Fishbein is serving as local counsel for the pregnancy center in the case, Care Net Pregnancy Resource Center of Southeastern Connecticut v. Tong, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut.
- Pronunciation guide: Harle (HAR’-lee)
Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization committed to protecting religious freedom, free speech, parental rights, and the sanctity of life.
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Denise Harle serves as senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, where she is a key member of the Center for Life. In this role, Harle focuses her litigation efforts on defending pro-life legislation around the nation. She also works to defend the First Amendment freedoms of pro-life health care professionals and pregnancy resource centers. Since joining ADF, Harle took the primary role in drafting the briefs to the U.S. Supreme Court in NIFLA v. Becerra, resulting in a free speech victory for California pro-life pregnancy centers. Prior to joining ADF, Harle served as deputy solicitor general in the Office of the Florida Attorney General, where she drafted appellate briefs and presented oral arguments on behalf of the state in a wide variety of constitutional cases, including defending the constitutionality of pro-life laws. In 2017, she participated in the prestigious Supreme Court Fellow program, sponsored by the National Association of Attorneys General. She clerked for Justice Ricky L. Polston on the Florida Supreme Court and worked for several years as an appellate litigator at a large firm in California. Harle earned bachelor’s degrees, summa cum laude, in psychology and interdisciplinary social science from Florida State University, a master’s degree in political science from Stanford University, and a Juris Doctor from Duke University School of Law. At Duke, she served as the executive editor of Law & Contemporary Problems, the law school’s oldest journal. A member of the state bars of California, Florida, and Georgia, she is admitted to multiple federal district and appellate courts, as well as the U.S. Supreme Court.