HARTFORD, CT — On the 46th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, a bipartisan group of lawmakers held a press conference in support of legislation that keeps with Connecticut’s tradition of reproductive freedom.
Some of the legislation builds on maternal health initiatives, such as Medicaid reimbursement for doula services and a woman’s right not to be discriminated against by her employer for asking for a quiet and private place to express breast milk for up to three years. Another proposal would exempt breast feeding supplies from sales taxes.
More controversial proposals include regulation of crisis pregnancy center advertising and the elimination of co-pays for medical and surgical abortions.
Crisis pregnancy centers provide pregnancy-related services and support, but do not offer abortions or emergency contraception, or referrals for such services.
A similar bill was raised by the Public Health Committee last year for debate but it never received a vote.
Sen. Mae Flexer, D-Killingly, said the Connecticut bill would be fashioned after a San Francisco ordinance, which has been upheld by the 9th Circuit Court and the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear arguments in the case.
Rep. Terrie Wood, R-Darien, said she hopes legislation passes to “prevent deceptive advertising” at crisis pregnancy centers.
“We need women to know the truth,” Wood said.
Flexer said women need the truth about their health care options, while also balancing free speech.
San Francisco enacted its truth-in-advertising law in 2011 to stop crisis pregnancy centers from running ads that make it seem like they’re abortion providers. The ordinance imposes penalties on clinics that make false or misleading statements.
In a separate case, the U.S. Supreme Court decided it was unconstitutional for the state of California to require the crisis pregnancy centers to post a brief notice and a number to call for free- and low-cost reproductive health services, including abortion care.
There are about 25 crisis pregnancy centers in Connecticut, but only four of them offer medical services, according to Lisa Maloney, executive director of CareNet.
If Connecticut passed the legislation it would be the only state in the nation with a law limiting these crisis pregnancy centers, Flexer said.
But it’s not a slam dunk. These centers also have their supporters.
Peter Wolfgang, executive director of the Family Institute of Connecticut, said no one with first-hand experience with the pregnancy centers in question came forward last year to testify.
Christine Bennett, communications director for the Family Institute of Connecticut, said the “Pregnant, Need Help?” ads on the back of buses was held up as an example of deceptive advertising. She said that assumes that the only help a woman needs is an abortion.
Bennett, who has worked at a pregnancy center, said they provide parenting classes and other material resources such as diapers.
“These are real lives at stake,” Bennett said. “Real women who don’t have anywhere else to go.”
The legislation to fine crisis pregnancy centers for false advertising has yet to be filed online, so it’s unclear exactly what it says. It’s too soon in the legislative process to know how much support there is for the legislation or whether it will be raised for a public hearing.
What did the recent election results say about the issue of reproductive rights?
Flexer said there’s been strong bipartisan support for women’s reproductive rights and that’s what they saw in the 2018 elections.
Flexer said many of her new colleagues ran on these issues.
Wolfgang disagreed that voters went to the polls with this issue on their mind.
“I don’t really see this as the make or break issue for what happened on Election Day last year,” Wolfgang said.
However, he conceded his organization lost support with the results of the election, which saw the Democratic Party expand its majority.