I am a public health graduate student who studies very bad news. A rash of six-week abortion bans has broken out across the country, the future of Roe v. Wade is uncertain under a conservative majority Supreme Court, and Planned Parenthood is under constant attack from the federal government. There has not been much to celebrate lately in the field of reproductive health policy.
But Connecticut is on the brink of passing legislation to protect reproductive health access in a way no other state has done before. HB 7070, An Act Concerning Deceptive Advertising Practices of Limited Services Pregnancy Centers, is pending vote on the House floor. The bill itself is narrow, but its impact on the health of Connecticut residents would be groundbreaking.
There are currently 25 limited services pregnancy centers across Connecticut, commonly known as Crisis Pregnancy Centers (CPCs). These centers claim they help people experiencing unplanned pregnancies receive a range of services, including counseling, financial assistance, or adoption resources. Only one out of 25 is licensed with the Department of Public Health. Most of the centers are religiously affiliated. And none of them provide or refer for abortion services.
When they play by the rules, CPCs have the right to exist in the state of Connecticut. But some are not playing by the rules. For years, many Connecticut CPCs have deceived patients by affirmatively advertising that they provide abortion services. This is a deliberate strategy designed by the national and international anti-abortion organizations that often partner with CPCs, like Care Net and the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates. At a national CPC conference, anti-abortion advocate Abby Johnson unabashedly endorsed this strategy, telling attendees, “the best client you ever get is one that thinks they’re walking into an abortion clinic.”
The goal of this national strategy is to block patients from accessing abortion once they walk through the doors of the CPC. Sometimes CPCs try to run out the clock on patients by telling them they have plenty of time to make a decision about having an abortion. Some CPCs tell patients it is likely their pregnancy will end in a miscarriage, or that they are earlier in their pregnancy than they actually are. If the patient decides later to have an abortion, their window of opportunity has expired. Other times CPCs block abortion access by outright scaring patients, spouting incorrect information about the risks associated with abortion.
This national anti-abortion strategy has found a home in some Connecticut CPCs, which regularly advertise that they offer abortion services. Many of their websites list abortion as an “option,” implying that abortion is an option that patients have access to at their center.
Other websites and materials tell people that if they are considering an abortion, they should contact their center to schedule an appointment. This creates the expectation that abortion is a medical service that patients can access at that appointment.
Some CPC websites disclose that the centers do not provide or refer for abortion services, but these disclosures are strategically located behind multiple tab clicks, hidden in small text at the footer of the website, or buried in large blocks of text. It is unreasonable to expect that a patient facing an unplanned pregnancy searching for immediate medical care will necessarily read this fine print. Furthermore, many of the printed materials that CPCs distribute to patients on the street or at community events do not contain any such disclosures.
HB 7070, an Act Concerning Deceptive Advertising Practices of Limited Services Pregnancy Centers, would change all this. It would prohibit these centers from deceiving patients through their websites and ads into believing they offer abortion services.
Opponents of HB 7070 claim that this bill is an attempt to shut down CPCs. This is untrue. It is true that, as a public health graduate student, I fundamentally disagree with centers that withhold referrals for a medical service based on ideology. But while I disagree with these centers, it is within their rights to exist, so long as they advertise honestly to people seeking medical care in the state of Connecticut. This bill has no effect on the CPCs that are truthful in their advertising.
It is time that Connecticut does something to interrupt the litany of attacks on reproductive health access we have seen nationwide under the Trump administration. Connecticut lawmakers must pass HB 7070 and protect the reproductive health care of residents across this state. Please give this weary public health student some good news to read about for once.
Sophie Wheelock is a student at the Yale School of Public Health.
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