National Institute of Family and Life Advocates v. Clark
Description: The National Institute of Family and Life Advocates and two pregnancy care centers are challenging Vermont state officials for unconstitutionally restricting the centers’ speech and provision of services.
Faith-based pregnancy centers sue Vermont for unconstitutional restrictions
BURLINGTON, Vt. – Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday on behalf of the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates and two pregnancy care centers challenging Vermont state officials for unconstitutionally restricting the centers’ speech and provision of services.
In May, Gov. Phil Scott signed SB 37 into law, impeding the ability of pro-life pregnancy centers to continue providing help and support to Vermont women and families. The law censors the centers’ ability to advertise their services. It also precludes the ability of centers to offer even non-medical services, information, and counseling unless provided by a licensed health care provider.
“Women who become unexpectedly pregnant should be empowered with life-affirming options, emotional support, and practical resources,” said ADF Legal Counsel Julia Payne. “Vermont’s law, however, does the opposite—it impedes women’s ability to receive critical services during a difficult time in their lives and suppresses the free-speech rights of faith-based pregnancy centers. Pregnancy centers should be free to serve women and offer the support they need without fear of unjust government punishment.”
NIFLA is a religious nonprofit that provides pro-life pregnancy center members with legal resources and counsel, with the aim of developing a network of life-affirming ministries in every community across the nation. NIFLA has six member facilities in Vermont, including Aspire Now and Branches Pregnancy Resource Center, two faith-based pregnancy centers that have joined the lawsuit.
The lawsuit explains that the Vermont law specifically 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 fine pregnancy centers up to $10,000 if she believes its life-affirming messages are misleading.
The law applies only to pro-life pregnancy centers—an abortion clinic that provides identical information would not be subject to the law. Also, the law does not define “misleading,” so it is left up to the discretion of the attorney general.
Further, Vermont’s law precludes the ability of centers to offer even non-medical services, information, and counseling unless provided by a licensed health care provider. This restriction harms pregnancy centers by preventing their non-medical staff and volunteers from providing clients with any information related to pregnancy and counseling clients about their options. It also prevents non-medical pregnancy centers, like Branches, from providing women with information or counseling about pregnancy without hiring medical staff.
ADF attorneys filed the lawsuit, National Institute of Family and Life Advocates v. Clark, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Vermont.
Michael Tierney is serving as local counsel on behalf of NIFLA and the pregnancy care centers.
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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Julia Payne serves as legal counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom’s Center for Life. In this role, she defends the sanctity of life by litigating both beginning and end of life issues. Before joining ADF, Payne worked at the Office of the Indiana Attorney General as a deputy attorney general for five years. She has argued cases before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, the Southern District of Indiana, and Indiana state courts. Payne graduated cum laude from Indiana University Maurer School of Law in 2017, where she served as an editor on the Indiana Law Journal and won best brief in the Sherman Minton Moot Court Competition. During law school, Payne interned as a clerk for Indiana Solicitor General Tom Fisher and as a Blackstone Fellow with ADF’s Center for Academic Freedom in Atlanta. Payne graduated summa cum laude from Western Kentucky University with a B.A. in History and a B.A. in Spanish. Payne is a member of the bars of the Indiana Supreme Court, the northern and southern districts of Indiana, and the 7th Circuit.