The sign in Birthright of Greater Hartford’s window facing the street reads, “Free Pregnancy Tests and Help,” with their phone number provided.
Abortion is not part of the “help” Birthright provides. Rather, it is part of Birthright International, a pro-life, non-profit chain started in 1968 in Toronto, Canada. It has about 300 facilities offering information, referrals and resources for women relating to pregnancy and parenting, but no abortion aid.
Now, over 20 pro-life crisis pregnancy centers, or CPCs, like Birthright of Greater Hartford, may be regulated by a new bill in the Connecticut legislature restricting their advertising techniques towards women seeking abortion services. Three such centers can be found within a 13-mile radius of Central Connecticut’s campus, including Birthright of Greater Hartford, and will be affected.
“When a pregnant woman is misled about the reproductive health services she can receive, she loses critical time,” recently-elected Attorney General William Tong said in his testimony during the bill’s public hearing on Feb 11. “Delays may mean that safer, less-invasive options are no longer available, or even that she no longer has the option to terminate her pregnancy.”
“An Act Concerning Deceptive Advertising Practices of Limited Services Pregnancy Centers,” known as HB 7070, was introduced by the Public Health Committee. It took over 12 hours for more than 330 people to testify in favor of or in opposition of the bill.
CPCs have been criticized nationally for misleading women searching for medical clinics who offer abortions through ambiguous advertising and false representations. They do not perform abortions or give referrals to clinics who offer them.
Mary McNamara, president and director at Birthright of Greater Hartford, described a crisis pregnancy as one where a woman feels pressure from her parents or the baby’s father. Overall, though, any pregnant woman who does not know her options and has no support could be experiencing a crisis pregnancy, according to McNamara.
Republican State Representative Brian Lanoue of the 45th District spoke out against the bill on his website.
“Unfortunately, there is a bill before the legislature this year, HB 7070, which would place an unnecessary burden on these centers,” he said. “These locations provide or refer prenatal services such as ultrasounds, on-staff nurses, parenting classes and assistance with finding health insurance and employment to pregnant women in need.”
Birthright of Greater Hartford does not offer ultrasounds, on-staff nurses or parenting classes. They do refer women who test positive to local hospitals, OBGYNs or, if they choose, state-licensed adoption agencies.
Their website does not explicitly say they do not offer abortion services, but rather offers information about pregnancy and referrals for medical support.
“We’re not ever trying to give anybody that impression. We want to be there to offer the alternative to abortion,” McNamara said.
The facility opened in 1973 and, according to McNamara, helped 200 women in 2017 with primarily “friendship counseling” and free pregnancy testing.
“If you sat down with your friend and they told you they were pregnant and they didn’t mean to be, you would try to help them out. You would call them and see how they’re doing and try to find out what resources might help them in the community, so that’s how we’re trying to be, a person’s friend,” McNamara said on the friendship counseling.
Neither certified medical nor psychological professionals are on staff at Birthright of Greater Hartford, but rather volunteers who receive a minimum of four hours of training per week for eight weeks run by McNamara, with materials provided by Birthright headquarters.
Hartford passed a similar city ordinance in Dec. 2017 directly targeting facilities like Hartford Women’s Center, who the city claimed opened up shop near an abortion clinic to intercept women seeking services there. Advocates of the bill read testimony where they accused the center of wearing white coats to portray an image of a licensed medical clinic.
Birthright of Greater Hartford is approximately 3.9 miles, or 10 minutes, away from Hartford’s Planned Parenthood on Albany Avenue.