Congressman Josh Gottheimer holds press conference in front of Lighthouse Pregnancy Center (Facebook photo)
By Tom Campisi
Armed with offensive rhetoric and information that was immediately challenged, New Jersey Congressman Josh Gottheimer launched an all-out assault on the state’s pregnancy centers.
On October 6, Rep. Gottheimer, who represents New Jersey’s 5th District, held a press conference in front of Lighthouse Pregnancy Center in Hackensack.
“The Lighthouse Pregnancy Resource Center appears harmless. But it’s actually one of many deceptive brainwashing cult clinics across our state and country, known as crisis pregnancy centers. We need to do everything we can to shut down these brainwashing cult clinics.”
At the press conference, Bergen County Commissioner Mary Amoroso also incensed pro-life supporters and people of faith with her comments.
“These centers masquerade as clinics and guidance centers providing unbiased information for women in crisis, but these centers are run by evangelicals who operate on the principle that women are just baby-making machines who fall for deceptive advertising and that fetal rights trump women’s rights every time,” she said. “They use guilt and misinformation to interfere with a woman’s autonomy and decision-making process in an anguishing moment.”
Gottheimer is helping lead the Stop Anti-abortion Disinformation Act in the House “to prevent crisis pregnancy centers from spreading deceptive advertising about health care.”
“Women often go to these healthcare hoax clinics thinking they will receive real medical help, but instead they are greeted by people with no medical background whose goal is to brainwash women with their own ideological agenda,” he said. “A crisis pregnancy center poses as a healthcare clinic with doctors and nurses, but you actually won’t find any healthcare professionals behind those doors.”
That claim, however, was immediately refuted at the press conference by Debbie Provencher, executive director of Lighthouse Pregnancy Resource Center in Hawthorne, Hackensack, Wayne, and Paterson. Provencher informed the congressmen that Lighthouse has nurses and sonographers on site.
Gottheimer replied: “Not according to my research evidence they don’t.”.
“It is just sad to me because I think it comes from misinformation and not true first-hand knowledge of what takes place here,” Provencher said. “I would have been happy to meet with Congressman Gottheimer and educate him on the work we do, had he reached out to me. As far as we know, he’s never actually spoken to our staff or the parents we serve to understand what we do and the positive impact we’ve had on thousands of lives in his district.”
“For over 30 years, pregnancy resource centers like Lighthouse have been providing free services to confirm pregnancy, along with ongoing support to assist parents in planning for their future. Rep. Gottheimer’s statements ignored this record of service to the thousands of women and their loved ones who have benefitted from it.”
While Gottheimer’s press conference, offensive language, and intention to shut down pregnancy centers appears unprecedented, it’s not the first time New Jersey government officials have publicly called out these non-profit organizations.
In December of 2022, NJ Attorney General Matt Platkin issued a consumer alert, alleging that pregnancy centers mislead and misrepresent how they operate. A consortium of New Jersey pregnancy centers responded by filing suit, claiming that the consumer alert unfairly tarnishes their reputation and disregards the valuable services the centers offer at no charge to thousands of women and their families each year. The lawsuit demanded copies of the documentation that the Attorney General and Consumer Affairs Director possessed when making their statements.
Eileen S. Den Bleyker, Esq., an attorney representing the Consortium, requested copies of the documents supporting the Consumer Alert’s claims under New Jersey’s Open Public Records Act (OPRA) and the common law, and continued to pursue these records for over four months. No documentation for the statements was forthcoming from the State, who asserted the request was improper.
Rita Reyes, a spokesperson for the Consortium, said Gottheimer was “irresponsible and reckless to attack New Jersey’s pregnancy centers and make threats against them using the verbiage he did.”
“It could very well put the women we serve at risk of attack,” she said. “These slanderous comments by Rep. Gottheimer are not only inflammatory and deceitful, but they serve only to divide an already polarized community.”
The press conference was also condemned by New Jersey Right to Life and the New Jersey Family Policy Center. Both organizations are urging New Jersey residents to contact Gottheimer and other state legislators.
“Gottheimer launched into a hate-filled diatribe, spreading false accusations and disinformation about NJ Pregnancy Centers and the work they do. NJRTL will stand with the Pregnancy Centers and fight these blatantly false lies and unconstitutional efforts to shut down NJ’s pregnancy centers,” said Marie Tasy, executive director of New Jersey Right to Life.
“We cannot let these words go unchallenged,” said Shawn Hyland, Director of Advocacy for the New Jersey Family Policy Center. “I ask you to contact the offices of Rep. Josh Gottheimer and County Commissioner Mary Amoroso to demand they release a public apology and take responsibility for their damaging and demeaning words against evangelicals and pro-life supporters in general.”