Judge halts law that would restrict Illinois pro-life pregnancy centers 

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A federal judge ordered Illinois to stop enforcing a law that restricts the speech of pro-life pregnancy centers while litigation over the constitutionality of the restrictions continues.

Judge Iain D. Johnston provided the pro-life pregnancy centers with temporary relief on Aug. 3 so they can freely advertise their services and speak to their clients freely. The order, which came one week after the law went into effect, does not settle the question of the constitutionality of the restrictions but will ensure their speech isn’t restricted as they await a final ruling.

Several pro-life pregnancy centers sued Attorney General Kwame Raoul over the law, which could result in fines of $50,000 for speech that the state determines is deceptive or misrepresents or omits information related to abortion.

“Free Speech won today in the Land of Lincoln — pro-life advocates across Illinois can breathe a sigh of relief they won’t be pursued for ‘misinformation’ by Attorney General Kwame Raoul,” Peter Breen, the executive vice president and head of litigation at the Thomas More Society, said in a statement. 

The Thomas More Society, a Catholic law firm, is representing the pregnancy centers in the lawsuit. The organization also represents the national pregnancy help center network National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA) and the Pro-Life Action League in the lawsuit.

“Across the nation, pregnancy help ministries are being discriminated against by laws that target their life-affirming work,” Breen said. “The injunction granted today sends a strong, clear message to the country that the First Amendment protects pro-life speech.”

The lawsuit alleges that the law’s intention is to chill and restrict the centers’ constitutional right to free speech in violation of the First Amendment’s guarantees of the freedom of speech and the freedom of religion.

It further alleges that the vagueness of the statute violates the 14th Amendment’s due process clause and its targeting of the centers violates the equal protection clause. 

The legislation added new restrictions to the Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act. The law, which only applies to pro-life pregnancy centers, states that it is intended to prevent “deceptive practices.”

Deceptive practices, according to the law, include fraud, misrepresentation, and false promises. They also include the “concealment, suppression, or omission” of a material fact with the intent that others rely on such concealment, suppression, or omission of that fact. 

These restrictions would apply whenever there is an intent to “interfere with or prevent” a person from accessing an abortion clinic or accessing an abortion pill or when the intent is to encourage a person to access a pro-life pregnancy center. It would apply to advertisements, solicitation, and other means of offering their services. It even would apply whenever a pro-life pregnancy center is “conducting, providing, or performing pregnancy-related services.”

Although the language of the law does not explain what constitutes a misrepresentation or what facts must be presented, it does indicate that the authors of the law believe pro-life pregnancy centers are regularly engaging in the practices it is prohibiting. The legislative intent section of the bill accuses them of dissuading people from obtaining abortion through “deceptive, fraudulent, and misleading information and practice.”

“The advertisements and information given by these organizations provide grossly inaccurate or misleading information overstating the risks associated with abortion, including conveying untrue claims that abortion causes cancer or infertility and concealing data that shows the risk of death associated with childbirth is approximately 14 times higher than the risk of death associated with an abortion,” the law claims.

The lawsuit asserts that the legislative intent section of the law shows that the intent is “to chill and deter speech by life-affirming organizations.” It states the language “is not aimed at requiring uncontroversial and nonburdensome commercial disclosures or at the direct regulation of deceptive commercial practices that only indirectly affect speech” but instead “prohibits pro-life pregnancy centers’ speech on a matter of grave public concern.”

“The state government has completely overstepped the bounds of any logical and relevant authority by inserting insane partisan politics into their governing bodies and attempting to trample the First Amendment rights of those with whom they disagree,” Thomas Glessner, the president of NIFLA, said in a statement. 

“There is no basis for their blatant attacks on pregnancy centers, who provide all of their services for free for women and their families throughout Illinois,” Glessner said. “They do so out of their deeply held beliefs of caring for one another and exhibiting human decency and compassion for those in need, something the leaders of Illinois are completely clueless about. This attempt to deny mothers their constitutional right to choose life is disgraceful and should be an embarrassment to the people of Illinois.”

The lawsuit asks the court to issue a permanent injunction, which would prevent the attorney general from enforcing the law in the future.

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CNA reached out to the attorney general’s office for comment but did not receive a response by the time of publication.

Illinois is not the only state to go after pro-life pregnancy centers this year. Pregnancy centers in Vermont filed a lawsuit against state officials last week to prevent the enforcement of a similar law.

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