Caring Families v. City of Hartford
Description: The city of Hartford enacted an ordinance that forced a life-affirming, faith-based pregnancy care center to make compelled statements using signs inside and outside the facility, on its website, and in telephone conversations with clients. The ordinance is similar to portions of a California law that the U.S. Supreme Court struck down in National Institute of Family and Life Advocates v. Becerra. Caring Families and its affiliated mobile care ministry have challenged the local ordinance in federal court, arguing that the city's compelled statements are a violation of the First Amendment and incorrectly imply that the nonprofit is unqualified to provide the range of free services it offers to clients.
ADF lawsuit prompts city of Hartford to respect beliefs, speech of pro-life ministry
The U.S. Supreme Court struck down a similar California law in 2018 in the ADF case National Institute of Family and Life Advocates v. Becerra.
“No government should steer women away from life-affirming help or force those trying to provide that help to make statements that undermine their message,” said ADF Senior Counsel Denise Harle. “Caring Families exists to help ensure that no woman feels alone, hopeless, or without options during an unexpected pregnancy. 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.”
The Hartford law compelled pregnancy centers to post signs and verbally share messages announcing, “This facility does not have a licensed medical provider on site to provide or supervise all services.” But as the ADF lawsuit explained, Caring Families has medical personnel on site for any medical services offered; its wide range of other services do not require supervision by a licensed medical provider.
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 lawsuit contended that Hartford “crafted a speaker-based, viewpoint-based law, targeting the speech only of speakers espousing certain pro-life moral, religious, and philosophical beliefs.” Although claiming to provide “consumer protection,” the city exempted abortion facilities and community health centers from the ordinance, even in situations when they do not have “a licensed medical provider present at all times directly providing or directly supervising all medical services.”
“As the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2018, pro-life pregnancy centers should be free to serve women without unjust government punishment,” said ADF Senior Counsel Kevin Theriot, vice president of the ADF Center for Life. “Hartford’s law only made it harder for women to seek out all of their options and obtain support. The city was wise to abandon enforcement of a hostile regulation that singled them out.”
- Pronunciation guide: Harle (HAR'-lee), Theriot (TAIR’-ee-oh)
Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith.
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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.