The title of House Bill 7070, introduced by the Public Health Committee, is “AN ACT CONCERNING DECEPTIVE ADVERTISING PRACTICES OF LIMITED SERVICES PREGNANCY CENTERS.” The bill addresses the alleged deceptive advertising practices of “limited services pregnancy centers,” more commonly known as “faith-based pregnancy centers,” and the legislation is outrigged with a full array of definitions that miraculously do not apply to so called “health centers” providing abortion, even though, as some have pointed out, abortion providers may engage in misleading advertising.
Since we are providing definitions, it may be useful to point out that there are two kinds of deceptive advertising. An ad may be misleading because it contains assertions that are manifestly untrue or because it omits necessary information. The same is true of legislation.
House Bill 7070 scrupulously avoids mentioning the dozen or so “faith-based pregnancy centers” in Connecticut, possibly because lawyers for non-faith-based pregnancy centers have advised that the term may trigger first amendment prohibitions that prevent law making bodies from producing legislation inhibiting “the free exercise of religion.” But the bill, as its language makes clear, never-the-less imposes restrictions on advertisements, a form of speech. And the bill treats faith-based advertisements much in the way then Attorney General Dick Blumenthal regarded pornographic ads in the now defunct Advocate chain of newspapers. Blumenthal brought suit, as he usually did, and lathered Connecticut’s media with moral suasion.
Planned Parenthood, the principal abortion provider in the United States, suggests in its national advertising that it is a “health center” that provides a full panoply of health care services; however, not all centers provide all the services listed in its plannedparenthood.org site and some services advertised involve referrals to off-site service providers. The corporation’s 2017-2018 Annual Report, lists 332,757 abortion procedures and 2,831 adoption referrals; so, clearly Planned Parenthood is not in the adoption referral business. The distinguishing difference between faith-based pregnancy centers and abortion factories is that women emerge from the former as mothers who have delivered babies, from the later as grief stricken victims of a pitiless culture that values neither life nor motherhood.
Since Planned Parenthood makes a good deal of its profits on abortions – and lately the selling of baby parts harvested from abortions to interested buyers – it seems reasonable to assume that its public advertising may be somewhat padded so that its more expensive procedure may be advertised to a clientele not requiring abortions. Then too, the connection between abortion and the physical “health” of a prospective mother is far from clear. Are any of Planned Parenthood’s advertisements misleading? And should they be misleading, would House Bill 7070 apply to Planned Parenthood the same strictures the bill would enforce on faith-based pregnancy centers that do not provide abortions?
The core of House Bill 7070 rests in Section 2:
“(Effective July 1, 2019) No limited services pregnancy center shall make or disseminate or cause to be made or disseminated in any newspaper or other publication, through any advertising device, or in any other manner, including, but not limited to, through use of the Internet, any statement concerning any pregnancy-related service or the provision of any pregnancy-related service that is false, misleading or deceptive or that a limited services pregnancy center reasonably should know to be false, misleading or deceptive, or with the intent not to perform such pregnancy-related service as advertised.”
Should a “limited services pregnancy centers” fail to comply with these strictures, courts may provide “…injunctive relief to compel compliance with the provisions of section 2 of this act and correct the effects of the false, misleading, or deceptive advertising… Upon a finding by the court that a limited services pregnancy center has violated any provision of [any] section of this act, the state shall be entitled to recover (1) civil penalties of not less than fifty dollars and not more than five hundred dollars per violation, and (2) reasonable attorney's fees and costs. Nothing in this section shall be construed as a limitation upon the power or authority of the state or any political subdivision thereof to seek any administrative, legal or equitable relief permitted by law.”
Proponents of House Bill 7070 seem to be unaware that the petard they are raising against faith-based pregnancy centers that will not perform abortions may easily be turned against Planned Parenthood abortion centers that do not provide on-site the full set of services offered in Planned Parenthood advertising. Then too, ads are a mode of speech surrounded by formidable Constitutional protections.
In his masterful “Origins of the Bill of Rights,” Leonard Levy reminds us that the whole purpose of a Bill of Rights is to protect the natural rights of man from the prehensile grasp of authoritarian government. Laws, to be just, must be general, and any law targeting specific classes and groups should be resisted for the same reason that bills of attainder, originally called “bills of pain and punishment,” should be resisted: government must never be used by special interests to gain an advantage or to subvert imprescriptible rights and privileges.