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Legislative Testimony:   Abortion  &  Free Speech

Written Testimony of Deanna Wallace, Esq., Staff Counsel, Americans United for Life,

Hon. Thomas J. Clarke II, Council President and Members of the Court of Common Council

Hartford, CT

November 20, 2017



Dear President Clarke and Honorable Members:


My name is Deanna Wallace, and I am Staff Counsel with Americans United for Life. In my practice, I have assisted in representing Pregnancy Care Centers in litigation on this issue at the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, as well as in federal court in Illinois. I am also in the process of assisting in authoring an amicus brief in favor of Pregnancy Care Centers in the Supreme Court case NIFLA v. Bacerra. I testify today as an attorney specializing in constitutional law.


There are more than 2,300 Pregnancy Care Centers across America that provide vital care to mothers and their children. These Centers offer women pregnancy testing, ultrasounds, peer counseling, and access to physical resources that allow them to better care for themselves and their children. These services have been estimated to save our communities upwards of $100 million a year. Contrary to smears by pro-abortion groups such as NARAL, Pregnancy Care Centers operate under high ethical standards, and treat each woman they encounter with kindness and compassion.


In Connecticut, there are approximately 30 Pregnancy Care Centers dedicated to serving vulnerable women. Hartford has only one – the Hartford Women’s Center, which is staffed by volunteers dedicated to empowering women to choose life for their unborn children. In a city like Hartford, with an overwhelming 31.2% poverty rate and facing a more than $50 million budget deficit- the services and support offered by Pregnancy Care Centers like Hartford Women’s Center should be praised, not targeted for political reasons.


This ordinance is yet another example of a recent effort by the abortion industry to silence those who are committed to giving women facing an unplanned pregnancy access to options other than abortion. The courts in general have not looked favorably on these attempts, and AUL has confidence that the Supreme Court will once again step in to protect the free speech rights of pro-life advocates. In fact, courts have already ruled on multiple occasions, that this type of ordinance is clearly “content-based,” and this is even more apparent here, where one Center is being openly targeted by the abortion industry. In fact, NARAL Connecticut, a pro-abortion group located here in Hartford, has been the leading force calling for this regulation- the explicit policy recommendation under consideration is even contained in their 2015 publication attacking Pregnancy Care Centers.


In Wooley v. Maynard, the Supreme Court explained that the “right to speak and the right to refrain from speaking are complementary components of the broader concept of ‘individual freedom of mind.’’[1] Ordinances such as the one proposed here, violate that ‘freedom of mind’ by requiring Pregnancy Care Centers to begin their relationship with women with a forced negative message that undermines their ability to offer counsel to women facing unplanned pregnancies.

Nor is it the government’s right to decide what counseling is classified as “false or misleading” in the context of a highly controversial, political subject such as abortion. “[A]s a general matter, the First Amendment means that government has no power to restrict expression because of its message, its ideas, its subject matter, or its content.” Ashcroft v. American Civil Liberties Union.[2] As a result, the Constitution “demands that content-based restrictions on speech be presumed invalid . . . and that the Government bear the burden of showing their constitutionality.”[3].


For these reasons, I urge the Council to reconsider implementing any ordinance that would unconstitutionally target the free speech rights of Pregnancy Care Centers. Not only can Hartford not afford the expensive litigation that will likely result, but the women of Hartford cannot afford to lose the support, care, and options that Pregnancy Care Centers represent. The women of Hartford, and their unborn children, deserve better. Thank you and I welcome any questions the Council may have for me.



[1]   430 U.S. 705, 714 (1977) (citing W. Va. State Bd. of Educ. v. Barnette, 319 U.S. 624, 637 (1943)).


[2]   35 U.S. 564, 573 (2002) (internal quotation marks omitted).


[3]   Id., at 660.




     Winter 2018                                                                                                                                        Bioethics in Law & Culture                                                                                                                                          vol. 1    issue  1    

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