Hartford Council Approves Proposal To Halt Alleged Deceptive Practices At Anti-Abortion Centers

Beginning next year, Hartford’s faith-driven crisis pregnancy centers, which critics say sometimes pose as clinics to lure women and hand out misleading information about abortions, will have to disclose whether its staff carry medical licenses.

The centers are also banned from engaging in false or deceptive advertising practices under a proposal adopted Monday by the city council. The new regulations take effect July 1.

The hot-button issue of the so-called anti-abortion centers has stirred debate in recent weeks, and drew hundreds to a public hearing in Hartford last month.

Advocates of the proposal say staff at the centers have approached women looking for legitimate clinics and beckoned them inside. The employees sometimes pose in white coats to make visitors believe they’ve arrived at a medical facility, they said, and then provide them with false information.

Critics have taken aim at a facility on Jefferson Street called the Hartford Women’s Center, located just steps from an independent abortion clinic. They say the Women’s Center was set up there to intercept patients heading for the clinic.

Anti-abortion activists have fought back, calling the proposal “the single biggest attack on the pro-life movement in Connecticut” and saying any characterization of the Women’s Center as deceptive is untrue.

Judith Mascolo, a West Hartford physician who volunteers at the Women’s Center, told The Courant that the facility’s volunteers are trained to approach women, but that no volunteer has ever coerced or misled them.

“If the woman says she is not interested, she is left alone,” Mascolo said.

Peter Wolfgang, executive director of the Family Institute of Connecticut, said he was disappointed by the decision Monday.

“It was always a steep climb,” he said after the vote. “It was always unlikely that we were going to stop this.”

“If it’s not going into effect until July, why the rush?” he added. “It seems to us further evidence that there were larger forces at play here, that the majority of the council is very much in bed with the abortion industry.”

Council members said the new regulations are not meant to take a side for or against the anti-abortion centers. They said the plan was simply about banning false advertising.

“The city respects the rights of individuals and promotes the beliefs that they hold, whether they are religious beliefs, moral or both,” Councilwoman Wildaliz Bermudez, a member of the Working Families Party, said. “This ordinance itself is not a pro-life/pro-choice issue. This ordinance is to regulate false and misleading advertising by pregnancy service centers and to require that pregnancy centers make certain disclosures.”

Fines of $100 a day may be levied against centers that violate the ordinance. The city’s health and human services department will be in charge of enforcement.

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