The team at Americans United for Life recently testified in two important hearings in Illinois. AUL publishes pro-life model legislation and policy guides, tracks state bioethics legislation, and testifies on pro-life legislation in Congress and the states. Our vision at AUL is to strive for a world where everyone is welcomed in life and protected in law.
In support of H.B. 2343, the Ultrasound Opportunity Act
Americans United for Life’s President and CEO Catherine Glenn Foster testified in support of Illinois H.B. 2343, the Ultrasound Opportunity Act. You can read her full testimony here. Here are some excerpts from her testimony. She argued:
Ultrasounds Are Critical to a Woman’s Agency and Empowerment When Considering Abortion
Ultrasound laws—or the lack thereof—have had a deep impact on my life. In 2001, when I was a sophomore in college in Georgia, I found myself unexpectedly pregnant. By default, I scheduled an appointment at an abortion facility. At the time, I wasn’t aware of any other type of clinic to turn to with an unexpected pregnancy that might truly help women and girls with life-affirming choices. I knew of nowhere else to go, and I assumed the facility would at least provide me with the information, resources, and answers I was looking for as I decided what my next steps would be.
As the clinic staff performed an ultrasound on me, I asked to see the image. I wanted to be able to make a fully informed decision, and I wanted to be able to see my child. But the woman who was maneuvering the wand over my belly said no. She told me it was against clinic policy to allow a mother to see the ultrasound image of her baby. And with that, they moved me on to the next workstation in the assembly-line process toward abortion.
I walked into that clinic because I felt I had no other choice, and nothing that took place there that day restored my agency or my empowerment. I was deeply conflicted, looking for information and resources to give me hope and options, but was given neither. I have never been able to see my child’s only photo, and that fact remains on my mind to this day. That clinic stripped me of my choice. When we as a society do not ensure that abortion facilities provide women and girls with the information they have asked for, it can have devastating consequences. I know that firsthand.
With each passing year, more and more women like me emerge from the silence after abortion. They are wounded and speak out in anguish on the physical, emotional, spiritual, and psychological harm they have suffered and still suffer as a direct result of their abortions. Often, this harm arises as a consequence of women “choosing” abortion without adequate and accurate information concerning the procedure itself and abortion’s risks, alternatives, and long-term consequences. Our experiences reflect the fact that abortion facilities often fail to provide adequate and accurate medical information, including access to and the option of viewing ultrasounds, to women considering abortions.
Testimony in Opposition of H.B. 2363 concerning the alleged “deceptive” practices of “limited service” pregnancy centers
Americans United for Life’s Natalie Hejran also testified against a bill that will hinder pregnancy recourse centers. She argued:
Pro-Life Pregnancy Centers Provide Essential Services Throughout Illinois and the United States
Pregnancy centers provide a wide range of important medical and support services, including pregnancy testing, obstetrical ultrasounds, STD testing and treatment, sexual risk avoidance education, and counseling. They do this at low or no cost for the women that seek their help. Pregnancy help centers not only provide emotional, material, and practical support on site, but also serve as the point of connection to other available assistance. Active in their communities, pregnancy help centers compile the local resources that are available and refer women to trusted maternity homes, job centers, housing agencies, public health resources, drug rehabilitation centers, and other social services organizations; parenting and childbirth classes; fatherhood programs; adoption support; abortion recovery programs; and material assistance. For example, in 2019, pregnancy help centers provided over 2 million baby outfits, over 1.2 million packs of diapers, over 19,000 strollers, and over 30,000 car seats to their clients at no cost. In 2021, there were 3,000 pregnancy centers throughout the United States. There are 100 centers in Illinois, and 50 of them are within a 100-mile radius of Chicago. These centers provide thousands of resources each year to the women and men of Illinois. While some of the findings in the Act claim pregnancy centers that do not provide abortion services are misleading, the reality is most women who access resources at pregnancy centers report a positive experience. In a study conducted in 2019, 99% of women surveyed nationwide that used resources from a pregnancy center reported “high client satisfaction.”
A recent study in Contraception confirmed that pro-life pregnancy resource centers offer better and less expensive services than abortion facilities.
“[T]he median ultrasound cost at abortion facilities was $162.50 . . . compared to $0 at CPCs [crisis pregnancy centers].”
“Abortion facilities were less likely to offer same-day pregnancy visits compared to CPCs (37.2% vs 68.5% respectively . . . ),” and “abortion facilities had longer median wait times for early pregnancy visits.”
“The median cost of standalone pregnancy testing at an abortion facility was $24.00 . . . compared to $0 at a CPC.” The study concluded: “early pregnancy services were generally more accessible at CPCs than at abortion facilities.”
The Act’s purpose states that “[t]he laws and public policy of this State have established the fundamental rights of individuals to make autonomous decisions about their own reproductive health, including the fundamental right to use or refuse reproductive health care.” The Act wants to ensure “access to quality reproductive health care that adheres to accepted standards of clinical practice.” Pregnancy centers engage in high standards of care in the course of offering their services. The three largest national networks of pregnancy centers—Care Net, Heartbeat International, and the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates—in addition to eight other pregnancy center networks, submit to a national code of ethics, “Our Commitment of Care and Competence.” Among other things, the pregnancy centers must abide by “truthfulness in all communications,” provide accurate scientific and medical information, and “maintain strict confidentiality protections as guided by federal, state, and local law.” The code also requires that a licensed physician supervise and direct all medical services “in accordance with applicable medical standards.” All staff members, board members, and volunteers at the pregnancy center must “receive appropriate training to uphold these standards.” These pregnancy centers not only provide a wide range of essential services and free resources to any client “without regard to age, race, income, nationality, religious affiliation, disability or other arbitrary circumstances” in Illinois, but do so with a high standard of care. Allowing pregnancy centers to function as they have been provides women the opportunity to have authentic choice in exercising their “fundamental right . . . to make autonomous decisions about their own reproductive health” by receiving care “that adheres to accepted standards of clinical practice.”
H.B. 2463 Targets Pro-Life Pregnancy Centers
H.B. 2463 targets pro-life pregnancy centers. The Act’s provisions apply only to a “limited services pregnancy center,” which is defined as an organization or facility that “does not directly provide abortions or prescribe emergency contraception, or provide referrals for abortions or emergency contraception, and has no affiliation with any organization or provider who provides abortions or prescribes emergency contraception; and has the primary purpose to offer or provide pregnancy-related services to an individual who is or has reason to believe the individual may be pregnant.” Additionally, the Act defines “pregnancy-related services” broadly as “any medical service, or health counseling service, related to pregnancy or pregnancy prevention, including, but not limited to, contraception and contraceptive counseling, pregnancy testing, pregnancy diagnosis, pregnancy options counseling, limited obstetric ultrasound, obstetric ultrasound, obstetric sonogram, and prenatal care.”
So if a facility provides “pregnancy-related services”—such as ultrasounds, sonograms, pregnancy tests, referrals for adoption, or material assistance for new mothers—so long as it provides or refers for abortion or emergency contraception, it is not considered a “limited services pregnancy center” and the Act does not apply. But, if a facility offers all of those other services, but does not refer for abortion or emergency contraception, it is considered to be “limited services.” This absurd result can only be explained by an attempt to purposefully single out pro-life pregnancy centers, since they are the only facilities that do not, often for reasons of conscience or conviction, provide or refer for abortion or emergency contraception. Under this Act, a facility that does not provide or refer for abortions would be opened up to state action, harassing lawsuits and fines, while a facility that provides or refers for abortion would remain unbothered. Some centers would not be able to stay open after such burdensome litigation and financial costs, closing their doors as a consequence of providing a wide array of services other than abortion and emergency contraception referrals.
In effect, the Act does not prohibit deceptive statements by all pregnancy centers, but only to pregnancy centers that do not provide or refer for abortion or emergency contraception. The Act’s blatant under-inclusiveness reveals that the Act’s purpose is to disfavor a particular viewpoint, particularly pro-life pregnancy centers and the pro-life viewpoint, to the detriment of the thousands of women who benefit from their resources.
H.B. 2463 Allows for Targeting, Harassment, and Silencing of Pro-Life Pregnancy Centers and Their Pro-Life Views
The Act is discriminatory against both pro-life content and viewpoints. Under the First Amendment, the government may not engage in such discrimination. Pro-life pregnancy centers are free to offer non-abortion services without discrimination and legal harassment based on their pro-life viewpoint. In NIFLA v. Becerra, for example, the Supreme Court held unconstitutional a California law that mandated pro-life pregnancy centers, if “licensed,” provide information to patients on how to obtain a state-funded abortion or, if “unlicensed,” provide notice it is an unlicensed facility. Mandating the provision of abortion information was an impermissible content-based action that failed constitutional review. Requiring notice that a pro-life facility is unlicensed “targets speakers, not speech, and imposes an unduly burdensome disclosure requirement that will chill their protected speech.” Similarly, Illinois cannot trespass on the First Amendment rights of pregnancy centers that forego abortion services merely because the pregnancy centers are pro-life.
The Act’s statutory remedies open pro-life pregnancy centers to targeting and harassment. The Act provides that Illinois’ Attorney General may harass a pro-life pregnancy center if “it appears to the Attorney General that a limited services pregnancy center has engaged in, is engaging in, or is about to engage in any practice declared to be unlawful by this Act, when the Attorney General receives a written complaint of the commission of a practice declared to be unlawful under this Act, or when the Attorney General believes it to be in the public interest that an investigation should be made to ascertain whether a limited services pregnancy center has engaged in, is engaged in, or is about to engage in, any practice declared to be unlawful by this Act.“ Illinois’ unfettered ability to open an investigation and bring suit, coupled with the expansive nature of the behavior prohibited, opens up pro-life pregnancy centers to targeting and harassment by an Attorney General who disfavors pro-life speech.
The Act provides several remedies for “using, ha[ving] used, or [being] about to use any method, act, or practice declared by this Act to be unlawful.” The Attorney General may “restrain by preliminary or permanent injunction the . . . method, act, or practice.” In addition, pregnancy centers found in violation of the Act are subject to monetary penalties, as well as “costs for the use of this State.” These fines and fees would not only funnel money away from the good work pregnancy centers do to help Illinois women who are pregnant, but merely one such lawsuit could financially cripple and shut down the offending pro-life pregnancy center since most offer their services at low cost or free of charge, are funded mainly by donations, and are largely staffed by unpaid volunteers. In the end, this would harm women, children, and families of Illinois who rely on pro-life pregnancy centers for care and support.