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Judge blocks Illinois law targeting pregnancy resource centers

Peter Breen, executive vice president and head of litigation of the Thomas More Society, is pictured in an undated photo speaking to the press outside a Planned Parenthood facility in Chicago. (OSV News Photo/Thomas More Society)

(OSV News) — A federal judge has issued a preliminary injunction against a new Illinois law, blocking the law’s restrictions on speech that was affecting the state’s 100 pregnancy resource centers.

Judge Iain D. Johnston of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Western Division, issued the injunction Aug. 3 in response to a lawsuit challenging the law filed by the Chicago-based Thomas More Society.

The Thomas More Society filed its lawsuit July 27, the same day Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker, a Democrat, signed the law.

The lawsuit seeks to keep Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul from enforcing the Deceptive Practices of Limited Services Pregnancy Centers Act (S.B. 1909), which declares both advertising and counseling by the centers, including sidewalk counseling, to be a “deceptive business practice.” Violation could bring fines of up to $50,000.

The Thomas More Society is representing Rockford Family Initiative in Rockford, Illinois; Relevant Pregnancy Options Center in Highland, Illinois; and 1st Way Life Center in Johnsburg, Illinois, as well as the Pro-Life Action League, based in Aurora, Illinois, and the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates, based in Fredericksburg, Virginia.

In an Aug. 3 statement, Peter Breen, executive vice president and head of litigation for the Thomas More Society, called the injunction “a strong, clear message to the country that the First Amendment protects pro-life speech.” Breen is a former Illinois state legislator.

“Governor Pritzker went so far overboard with this law, demanding people who don’t agree with him outrightly go against their beliefs and support his radical abortion stance,” Thomas Glessner, president of the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates, said in a statement. “We are thrilled with the judge’s decision to issue the preliminary injunction against this unconstitutional law and hope it follows (Roe v. Wade) into the trash heap.”

The preliminary injunction prevents the law from being enforced as the case proceeds through the court system. The state has 30 days to appeal the injunction to the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Otherwise, the case will now proceed into discovery in U.S. District Court, Breen told OSV News.

The lawsuit accuses Raoul’s office, in drafting the law, of having “relied largely on sidewalk squabbles having nothing to do with pregnancy centers; the unsubstantiated hearsay of an abortion-advocacy organization about unknown pregnancy clinics in unknown locations; and on a Planned Parenthood lobbyist’s complaint about alleged pregnancy center ‘misinformation’ that was ostensibly causing women to ‘decide’ not to have abortions.”

Rockford Family Initiative and the Pro-Life Action League both engage in sidewalk counseling “as an exercise of their religious beliefs that life begins from the moment of conception, that all children are a gift from God, and that abortion is the wrongful taking of a human life,” the lawsuit states. “Because of these religious beliefs, both RFI and PLAL have religious objections to providing referrals for abortions and emergency contraception or affiliating with an organization that provides abortions or emergency contraception.”

An earlier statement from Raoul said he had “witnessed deceptive crisis pregnancy center tactics firsthand” while visiting a Planned Parenthood clinic. “People who appeared as though they might work there were outside attempting to divert patients away from the health center.”

But Breen, citing documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, said, “The attorney general has received zero complaints from members of the public against an Illinois pregnancy help center for alleged violations of the Deceptive Business Practices Act.”

In May, the Catholic Conference of Illinois objected to the legislation prior to its enactment, saying it was “left open to a very broad interpretation by the attorney general” and provided “no guidance for pregnancy centers on how they are to avoid violations.”

Illinois has about 100 pregnancy resource centers. According to the Charlotte Lozier Institute, as of 2019, there were 2,700 pregnancy centers in the United States.
The Illinois suit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, seeks a temporary restraining order, preliminary injunction, and permanent injunction against the bill. Temporary and “The Illinois law specifically targets what the abortion side calls ‘misinformation’ on abortion put forward by Illinois pregnancy health ministries,” Breen told OSV News in a recent interview. “To that extent, the Illinois law is the most expansive restriction on pro-life speech in the country, which is why we are fighting so hard to enjoin it.”

Kurt Jensen reports for OSV News from Washington.

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