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Court calls Vermont law into question, allows pro-life pregnancy centers’ suit to continue

by | Jun 25, 2024

ADF attorneys represent centers in case challenging unconstitutional discrimination

By Alliance Defending Freedom

A federal district court in Vermont has allowed a lawsuit brought by pregnancy care centers to proceed. In the case, National Institute of Family and Life Advocates v. Clark, Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) attorneys represent NIFLA, Aspire Now, and Branches Pregnancy Resource Center because Vermont officials unconstitutionally restricted the centers’ speech.

“Women who become unexpectedly pregnant should know they have life-affirming options available to them, from emotional support to practical resources,” said ADF Legal Counsel Julia Payne. “That is what our clients offer to their communities, and that is why the court rightly saw fit for this lawsuit to proceed.

“Not only does Vermont’s law force faith-based pregnancy centers in the state to speak and act against their conscience; it also robs women of these options and impedes their ability to receive critical services during a difficult time in their lives. Pregnancy centers should be free to serve women and offer the support they need without fear of unjust government punishment. As our case continues, we will urge the court to support the rights of pregnancy centers that provide these critical care services.”

As the U.S. District Court for the District of Vermont wrote in its decision, “Viewpoint discrimination is a particularly insidious form of content discrimination, taking place when the government targets ‘particular views taken by speakers on a subject’ … [T]he Court concludes that Plaintiffs have plausibly alleged that both regulations may be viewpoint-based. They target [pro-life pregnancy centers] for regulation, situating Plaintiffs differently from other clinics.”

Last May, Vermont Gov. Phil Scott signed SB 37 into law, impeding the ability of pro-life pregnancy centers to continue providing help and support to the state’s women and families. The law censors the centers’ ability to advertise their services and to counsel women against abortion.

The law specifically targets pro-life pregnancy centers as “limited services” providers because they do not refer for or perform abortions. Under the law, the state attorney general has the authority to fine pregnancy centers up to $10,000 if she believes its life-affirming messages are misleading.

The law applies only to pro-life pregnancy centers. An abortion facility that provides identical information would not be subject to the law.

The district court ruled that all three clients can challenge the law’s violation of free speech and that NIFLA and Aspire Now can challenge the law’s restriction on providing information, services, and counseling.