Pregnancy (care/help/resource) centers are pro-life charitable organizations that provide pregnancy-related services at no-cost to expecting mothers, and which are funded entirely by private donations. Even before, but especially since the oveturning of Roe v. Wade, there has been a war on these pro-life centers; the tactical aspects of which are numerous and fairly well-known. Recent examples of ground-level attacks involve arson, vandalism and other forms of violence against persons and property.

This article will be describing what can be called the “strategic” war on pregnancy centers. It is the more “civilized” aspect of the war, which involves the use of legal systems and institutions as a weapon to attack the pro-life movement. Some refer to this concept as “lawfare,” while others simply label it legal warfare.

The Attack of the Bureaucrats on Pro-Life Centers

In 2009, Baltimore may have been the first city government to introduce and pass an ordinance targeting pregnancy centers. The city of San Francisco followed in 2011 with a law that prohibited these centers from making “false or misleading statements” to the public. Upon challenge, a federal district court upheld the San Francisco law, and in 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court denied review, thus allowing the law to remain in place. Since then, other cities have worked to pass similar ordinances.

The war escalated to the state-level in 2015. That year, the Reproductive FACT (Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care, and Transparency) Act was implemented in California. At the time, this legislation represented the most comprehensive state effort targeting pregnancy centers to date. Supporters referred to it as a “truth in advertising” law. The Act required pregnancy care centers to post signs stating that they were not licensed medical facilities, and to inform clients about the state’s public programs for reproductive health care, which included abortion services (the very thing that pro-life centers were formed to oppose).

The California law was immediately challenged, and in 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of NIFLA (National Institute of Family and Life Advocates) v. Becerra, ultimately declared it to be unconstitutional. The Court found that the Act violated the First Amendment by targeting the speakers rather than speech, and because it compelled statements from individuals that contradicted their religious beliefs.

The Becerra holding quieted the storm for only a few years, until 2021 when the state of Connecticut enacted its own unique law regarding pregnancy centers and deceptive advertising. It gave the state’s attorney general power to enforce the provisions with fines imposed directly on the centers. As with the California law, the Connecticut law was immediately challenged, although in this case the lawsuit was dropped in January of this year. The party which filed the challenge, Care Net, was ultimately satisfied when the state’s attorney general disclosed that no action had been taken against any of the centers located within the state, and that there was no basis to enforce the law. Unfortunately, however, the law remains in effect in Connecticut.

Changing Tactics and Taking No Prisoners

After the Dobbs decision was formally released on June 24 of last year, it is not surprising that the war escalated further, this time at the national (i.e., federal) level. In July of 2022, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) expressed a desire to shut down all pregnancy care centers nationwide, based on her argument that these centers were set up to “fool” and to “torture” unsuspecting women. This particular battle represented a turning point in the war, as the focus changed to closing down all pregnancy centers, and not just those that might be accused of any potential “deceptive” practices.

To accomplish her objective, Senator Warren introduced the Stop Anti-Abortion Disinformation (SAD) Act, which thankfully did not become law. If passed, it would have authorized the Federal Trade Commission to regulate and fine pregnancy centers for what it determined to be “misleading advertising.” This was actually not the first time pregnancy care centers were targeted at the federal level. The Senator was likely inspired by a proposal from several years earlier, the “Stop Deceptive Advertising for Women’s Services Act,” first introduced in 2006 by former Representative Carolyn Maloney (D-NY). While similar versions of the Maloney bill have been reintroduced several times over the years (including Senator Warren’s SAD Act), no federal law specifically targeting pregnancy centers has ever passed the U.S. Congress.

In 2023, state lawmakers have introduced or advanced a number of bills in their legislative sessions to attack pregnancy care centers in much more targeted ways. For example, a law in Colorado implemented in April (SB 190) targets “deceptive practices” of pregnancy centers, and regulates the administering of abortion reversal pills.

In Illinois, a particularly aggressive law (SB 1909) was signed into law on July 27 covering the “deceptive practices” of what the act defines as “Limited Services Pregnancy Centers.” Sponsored by the state’s attorney general, the law targets such centers with the imposition of fines of up to $50,000. It is intentionally vague, containing no definitions of the relevant terms for determining “deceptive practices” or “omissions of material fact.”

From a strategic standpoint, the Illinois law can be viewed as an attempt to burden pregnancy care centers with heavy fines and excessive litigation costs, and to ultimately force them out of business. It may represent the most aggressive attack on pro-life pregnancy centers since the 2015 California law (the Reproductive FACT Act). In defense of life, a federal lawsuit has already been filed to stop enforcement of the new law.

Strategies Going Forward

The war on pregnancy centers described above has been ongoing since around 2006. What is ironic about the war, and the labeling of pro-life pregnancy center practices as having the potential to be “deceptive,” is that it is abortion clinics that have historically been accused of engaging in practices that are deceptive. Examples include not informing women about potential physical and psychological complications resulting from abortion procedures, and more recently, failing to inform women about pain, cramping and bleeding caused by chemical abortions and the usage of abortion pills. Another significant historic example of deception (or perhaps a form of psychological warfare) is the labeling of human babies as “clumps of cells” and/or “not yet human,” which is inconsistent with biology, genetics, and common medical definitions.

Anyone who studies this war (both the strategic as well as the tactical aspects of it) is likely to question what could possibly be so offensive about organizations that promote, support, and empower women and their pregnancies. While charities would seem to be an odd target, and pregnancy would seem to be an odd concept to oppose, it begins to make sense when one realizes that the war is really about the promotion of abortion ideology, and money, rather than a desire to oppose charitable giving or to reduce the total number of pregnancies. What the war ultimately demonstrates is that the opponents of pregnancy care centers are not necessarily pro-choice, but are instead unabashedly “pro-abortion,” despite their repeated denials and numerous attempts to avoid this label. It also demonstrates another important point from the perspective of the abortion industry: pro-life pregnancy care centers are simply “bad for business.”

Photo Credit- Students for Life Action