NRL News

Vermont Law Challenged in Federal District Court for Restricting Pro-Life Speech

by | Jul 26, 2023

By Mary Hahn Beerworth 

On June 25, 2023, Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA) and two Vermont pregnancy care centers challenging Vermont state officials for unconstitutionally restricting the centers’ speech and provision of services.

ADF attorneys filed the lawsuit, National Institute of Family and Life Advocates v. Clark, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Vermont.

In May, 2023, Gov. Phil Scott signed legislation (S 37) into law, threatening the ability of pro-life pregnancy centers to continue providing help and support to Vermont women and families.

The bill (now Act 15) was promoted by Planned Parenthood of Northern New England whose lobbyist testified with open hostility against Vermont’s Pregnancy Resource Centers. 

Vermont Right to Life’s Executive Director and Policy Analyst testified before committees of the House and Senate against S37 and clearly stated that S37 was unconstitutional. 

“The pro-abortion super majority in the Vermont Legislature, and Governor Phil Scott, ignored the First Amendment in favor of Planned Parenthood’s agenda,” stated Sharon Toborg, Policy Analyst for VRLC. “Pro-life people will not let abortion advocates manipulate the law in order to prevent women from hearing about alternatives to abortion.”

The law censors the centers’ ability to advertise their services. It also precludes the ability of centers to offer even non-medical services, information, and counseling unless provided by a licensed health care provider.

“Women who become unexpectedly pregnant should be empowered with life-affirming options, emotional support, and practical resources,” said ADF Legal Counsel Julia Payne. “Vermont’s law, however, does the opposite—it impedes women’s ability to receive critical services during a difficult time in their lives and suppresses the free-speech rights of faith-based pregnancy centers. Pregnancy centers should be free to serve women and offer the support they need without fear of unjust government punishment.”

Thomas Glessner, president of the National Institute for Family and Life Advocates, argued that the U.S. Supreme Court in 2018 affirmed crisis pregnancy centers’ rights to operate “without unjust government punishment or government interference with their message.”

Glessner further stated in a press release, Vermont is “trampling First Amendment rights of people whose only goal is to help women in their time of need.”

“Vermont is wasting precious time seeking to hinder the constitutional right of women to choose life for their baby and by going after centers who help women rather than working with these pregnancy centers on what they can do together to meet the needs of women facing unplanned pregnancies,” Glessner said.