State Rep. Jillian Gilchrest advocating in 2019 for similar legislation. (CTNewsJunkie file photo)

I am an unapologetically pro-choice woman, which means that I support every woman’s decision to access medically accurate information to make reproductive health decisions that are best for her and/or her family. On Wednesday, Feb. 10, the Public Health Committee held a public hearing on SB 835, An Act Concerning Deceptive Advertising Practices of Limited Services Pregnancy Centers. We heard a lot about “choice,” but time and again we also heard about “two camps” – those who are anti-abortion and those who are pro-abortion. 

As a pro-choice woman, I believe that women should have access to safe and legal abortion. I also believe that if you don’t want to have an abortion, if you believe that abortion is morally wrong, then so be it. That is your choice. I just don’t want to make that choice for you. Therein lies the conflict and, to me, the point of this legislation. I’m not pro-abortion. I’m not anti-abortion … I’m pro-choice.

We are not going to solve the “abortion” culture war this legislative session, and that isn’t the intent of SB 835. SB 835 is about ensuring that women who are seeking reproductive healthcare in the state of Connecticut aren’t deceived in order to limit their choices. The bill requires that no limited services pregnancy center, otherwise known as a Crisis Pregnancy Centers (CPC), make statements concerning any pregnancy-related services or the provision of such service that is deceptive. If we all believe in choice, then shouldn’t we all agree that women deserve to have truthful information about those choices?

At Wednesday’s hearing, opponents of this legislation made accusations that this bill was about “ruining the competition.” Women and their reproductive health were reduced to a commodity with those who support crisis pregnancy centers claiming that Planned Parenthood and independent abortion providers sought to destroy CPCs in order to benefit financially from abortion. This train of thought is part of a dangerous anti-choice rhetoric that has permeated the “abortion” culture war in recent years. 

It is this type of rhetoric that those of us supporting SB 835 are trying to prevent from being used to mislead women who seek safe and legal reproductive healthcare. We heard from several CPCs who claimed to have never or no longer use deception to deter women from accessing abortion. But we also heard from Connecticut medical providers who shared the stories of their patients who claimed they have been the victim of deception while intentionally or not intentionally visiting a CPC.

a green button that says support and red button that says oppose

SB 835 is about creating uniformity across our state and ensuring that regardless of the website a woman visits or the crisis pregnancy center she walks into, she receives medically accurate information.

One of the most critical points in Wednesday’s hearing came when the ABC Women’s Center, a crisis pregnancy center in Middletown, defended a recommendation on their website that women consider “abortion reversal.” “Abortion Reversal” is a series of oral or injected doses of the hormone progesterone given over the course of several days to stop an abortion and continue the pregnancy. This concept is not supported by science and does not meet clinical standards, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). Additionally, a study designed to test the effectiveness of “abortion reversal” was stopped early because of safety concerns. Three of the women required ambulance transport to a hospital for treatment of severe vaginal bleeding. 

The Executive Director of ABC Women’s Center repeatedly defended her Center’s sharing of deceptive information about a pregnancy-related service that is not approved by the medical community and known to be dangerous for women. In defending her position, she argued that there are many reasons to use progesterone for off-label use, making those listening to her statements question what other deceptive information she might be telling women who visit the ABC Women’s Center.

Since the Connecticut General Assembly first introduced legislation to prevent deceptive statements at limited service pregnancy centers, the Connecticut Catholic Conference, which includes the state’s bishops, formed a coalition of CPCs called Connecticut Pregnancy Care Coalition (CPCC). The CPCC requires its member-centers to take a softer approach to crisis pregnancy help. Bishop Michael Cote of the Diocese of Norwich has been reported as saying that any CPCs that wish to access financial and moral support from the diocese will need to become a member-center of the CPCC. Pathways Pregnancy Center of Norwich, however, has refused to join the CPCC and has been refused funds from the Knights of Columbus in the diocese. It was reported that Pathways Pregnancy Center has not joined because they are not willing to sacrifice the direct contact with women they find to be most effective in preventing abortions

There are too many discrepancies across Connecticut in the types of deceptive statements that crisis pregnancy centers are making publicly or by omission. SB 835 is meant to ensure that all women in Connecticut receive medically accurate reproductive healthcare information to make the choice that is right for them. 

Jillian Gilchrest is a state representative from West Hartford.

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