CT crisis pregnancy centers face stricter regulations

March 29, 2019

HARTFORD — The Public Health Committee Friday forwarded a controversial bill that regulates advertising for crisis pregnancy centers to the House, but it held legislation that would allow a terminally-ill patient end their lives with medication.

Crisis pregnancy centers provide pregnancy-related services and support, but do not offer abortions or emergency contraception and do not offer referrals for those services. Critics of the centers say women believe they are getting a full spectrum of reproductive care when that’s not the case.

The bill the committee approved Friday regulates the advertising these centers do and allows the attorney general to apply for a court order to bring a center into compliance with the law. The votes were being held open until 5 p.m., but a preliminary vote count shows the bill easily passed.

Rep. Vincent Candelora, R-North Branford, said the legislation confers power upon the attorney general to essentially bring a private cause of action, which he believes to be unprecedented.

He said if the crisis pregnancy center is deceptive in their advertising then a person should already be allowed to file a complaint with the Department of Consumer Protection.

A similar bill was raised by the Public Health Committee last year for debate, but it never received a vote.

Candelora pointed out that during the public hearing on the bill they didn’t hear any specific allegations about pregnancy centers in Connecticut.

“I do feel as if this legislation is designed to discriminate against a particular portion of this industry,” Candelora said.

Rep. David Michel, D-Stamford, said some of the crisis pregnancy centers were quick to make some small changes to language on their websites following the public hearing.

Sen. Heather Somers, R-Groton, said she doesn’t think anyone wants to be deceived, but there have been no complaints against these centers to the Department of Consumer Protection.

She said it’s not applied to plastic surgeons when they can’t help her look 10 times younger or the weightloss companies when she doesn’t lose as much weight as promised.

However, the state isn’t looking to regulate advertising in those areas.

“I think this bill is quite different than somebody looking for cosmetic surgery or weightloss,” Sen. Mary Abrams, D-Meriden, said. “This is about a timely situation—an unplanned pregnancy—where a woman is looking for medical services that they’re legally entitled to. They shouldn’t have to spend extra time figuring out who can provide that or not provide that.”

Abrams said she’s actually a few of these centers changed their websites since the hearing because it means they are aware of what needs to happen.

Rep. William A. Petit, Jr., R-Plainville, said he doesn’t know if it’s the “gorilla” in the room, but the issue has been whether or not places tell people whether they provide abortions or refer for abortions.

He said the straightforward resolution to the issue would be to have a sheet of paper at every center that says what services are provided and what services are not provided.

Steinberg said the goal of the legislation and government is to go after the “bad actors”—those who are “intentionally deceiving people as to what services they provide.”

The committee held a bill that would provide terminally-ill patients with six months to live the ability to receive medication to end their lives. They meet again at 10:30 a.m. Monday, April 1 and their deadline to move legislation forward is 5 p.m. Wednesday, April 3.

Sharon Hines, who has stage four lung cancer and may not be here next year to fight for the bill, said she wants to have the option.

“It’s my death. I want to go out on my own terms, in my own home,” Hines said in the Legislative Office Building Thursday.

Hines and a small group of volunteers, including actor James Naughton, were tracking down Public Health Committee members Thursday trying to make sure the bill will get out of committee this year.

Naughton said he can’t understand why some are conflating it with other issues. He said for 20 years its been legal in a handful of states and no one with a disability had been harmed.

The disability community and the religious organizations have been opposed to the legislation.

Patty McQueen, another volunteer supporting the legislation, said it keeps coming back as an issue because it’s needed.

Shannon Sanford, a nurse, said every person is just “one bad death” away from supporting the legislation.

The bill failed to survive the committee process in 2013, 2015, 2016 and 2017. On Monday, New Jersey passed similar legislation and it’s awaiting the governor’s signature.