Victory for pro-life speech in land of Lincoln

pregnant woman Credit: Mel Elias/Unsplash

Illinois has agreed to halt its enforcement of a law that restricts the speech and advertising of pro-life crisis pregnancy centers following a lawsuit that challenged its constitutionality on First Amendment and other grounds. 

Attorney General Kwame Raoul agreed to a court order that imposes a permanent injunction against the legislation on Dec. 11. This prohibits the state from enforcing the law, which had already been temporarily paused by a judge pending the outcome of the litigation. 

“This law is just one of a number of illegal new laws enacted across the country that restrict pro-life speech — we hope this permanent injunction, with full attorney’s fees, serves as a warning to other states that would seek to follow Illinois and try to silence pro-life viewpoints,” Peter Breen, the head of litigation for the Thomas More Society, the Catholic law firm that represents the pro-life pregnancy centers, said in a statement.

The now-defunct law enacted new restrictions in the Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act. However, the restrictions only applied to pro-life pregnancy centers and explicitly exempted organizations that perform abortions. The rules applied to advertisements and when speaking with clients. 

The law stated that its purpose was to prevent “deceptive practices,” which it defined as “misrepresentation, or the concealment, suppression, or omission of any material fact, with the intent that others rely upon the concealment, suppression, or omission of such material fact” related to surgical and chemical abortions.

The law did not clearly express what facts the pro-life pregnancy centers needed to convey to potential clients, nor did it state what constituted a “misrepresentation” of a fact related to abortion. 

Yet pro-life pregnancy centers would have been subject to this mandate whenever they advertised for or conducted pregnancy-related services, whenever they encouraged a person to enter one of their centers, and whenever they “interfere with or prevent an individual from seeking to gain entry or access to a provider of abortion or emergency contraception.”

The text explaining the purpose of the law also stated that pro-life pregnancy centers misrepresent facts in their current practice and that they try to dissuade people from obtaining abortions through “deceptive, fraudulent, and misleading information and practice.”

Pro-life pregnancy centers could have been fined up to $50,000 for violating the law. 

The suit, filed by pro-life pregnancy centers in Illinois, claimed that the vagueness of the bill was in violation of the 14th Amendment right to due process and that its specific targeting of the pro-life pregnancy centers violated the equal protection clause. The centers further argued that it was in violation of the First Amendment because it was intended to silence pro-life speech.

After the state agreed to not enforce the law, the attorney general’s office released a statement indicating his commitment to ensuring abortion access. 

“[This order] in no way affects my ongoing work protecting women’s rights to access the full range of reproductive health services,” Raoul said. “Furthermore, this proposed order does not alter Illinois’ Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Practices Act or my office’s preexisting authority under the act, and I remain committed to protecting consumers against all deceptive practices.”

Both parties agreed to the order, but it must be signed by a judge before it is finalized. 

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