Federal Judge Halts Illinois Law Targeting Pro-Life Pregnancy Centers for So-Called ‘Deceptive Practices’

Pro-life activist Lynn Jackson, with the group Bound for Life, protests in front of the U.S. Supreme Court November 30, 2005 in Washington, DC. The highest court in the U.S. is hearing the first case on abortion rights since Chief Justice John Roberts was sworn in.. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty …
Win McNamee/Getty Images

A federal judge has halted an Illinois law passed last week that targets pro-life pregnancy centers for so-called “deceptive practices” that dissuade women from aborting their unborn babies.

Judge Iain Johnston in the U.S. District Court Northern District of Illinois granted a preliminary injunction on Thursday night blocking the law’s enforcement. The lawsuit was brought against Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul by the Thomas More Society on behalf of the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA) and several other pro-life organizations. 

“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,” executive vice president and head of litigation for the Thomas More Society Peter Breen said in a statement.

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

Democrat Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed the bill last Thursday. The law, SB 1909, claims Illinoisans have been “misled” by crisis pregnancy centers. It also claims that the state:

…has an interest to protect against deceptive, fraudulent, and misleading advertising and practices that interfere with an individual’s ability to make autonomous, informed, and evidence-based decisions about the individual’s reproductive health and have timely access to quality reproductive health care that adheres to accepted standards of medical practice or care.

The bill also gives the Illinois Attorney General’s Office the ability to determine what deception is or “omission of material fact.” Centers in violation of the law could be fined up to $50,000.

“Women need access to comprehensive, fact-based healthcare when making critical decision about their own health — not manipulation or misinformation from politically motivated, non-medical actors,” Pritzker said in a statement after signing. “By empowering the Attorney General’s office to battle deceptive practices, we’re ensuring Illinoisans can make their own decisions about their bodies using accurate and safe information.”

J.B. Pritzker (Saul Loeb / AFP / Getty)

Governor JB Pritzker of Illinois, on July 14, 2021, after meeting with President Joe Biden about the administration’s infrastructure plan. (SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)

Right after the governor signed the bill, Thomas More Society attorneys filed a federal lawsuit against Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul. The lawsuit argues that the law is “an egregious affront to the First Amendment’s guarantees of freedom of speech assembly, and religious exercise, as well as the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantees of equal protection, due process of law, and the right to continue a pregnancy.”

“Pritzker has signed into law Senate Bill 1909 which openly targets pro-life pregnancy ministries — while exempting abortion facilities — by specifically prohibiting them from engaging in undefined ‘deception’ or ‘omissions of any material fact’ under the Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Businesses Practices Act,” the lawsuit states. “But SB1909 goes far beyond traditional restrictions on deceptive business practices, in part by stating in its express legislative intent that it unapologetically targets alleged pro-life ‘misinformation’—that is, controverted facts about abortion that the Illinois General Assembly majority believes are not among the ‘orthodox’ views on the subject.”

The Associated Press

Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul in Chicago on May 23, 2023. (Eileen T. Meslar/Chicago Tribune via AP)

The lawsuit notes that the Illinois Attorney General’s Office, which authored and would enforce the bill, confirmed during legislative hearings on the bill that it could prohibit pro-life pregnancy centers from stating that “life begins and conception” or require them to “speak the state’s viewpoint that childbirth is allegedly associated with a 14-times-greater-risk of death than abortion, despite studies contradicting that view and in the teeth of the pro-life position that abortion poses a 100 percent risk of death of for the unborn child.”

“But now, speaking common pro-life views as part of a pregnancy help ministry, or failing to speak the State’s pro-abortion views on hotly disputed issues, is illegal under state law, on pain of crippling fines, injunctions, and attorney fees,” the lawsuit states. “Meanwhile, abortion facilities (as well as expressly exempted licensed healthcare providers and hospitals) remain free to engage in their own controversial speech about abortion, as they wish.”

The lawsuit further adds that “in reality, [the law] reduces the ability of pregnant women to receive information necessary to make an ‘autonomous’ and ‘informed’ decision.”

“Instead of that autonomous decision, SB1909 would cabin a pregnant woman’s decision-making process by allowing only the limited data approved by the state, instead of allowing her to hear both sides’ advocacy and information before making an abortion decision,” the lawsuit states.

“From the Governor on down, every state constitutional officer and majorities of both houses of the General Assembly are “100% pro-choice.” Access to abortion in Illinois is widespread and virtually unlimited, and abortion providers are politically protected and privileged,” the lawsuit continues. “Regardless of the State of Illinois’s viewpoint and policy preferences regarding abortion, the State cannot use its power to silence opposing viewpoints. But this is exactly what SB1909 seeks to do.”

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It should be emphasized that crisis pregnancy centers — instead of abortion — offer support for pregnant women in need who choose life for their unborn child. They also often offer help after the baby is born. The Charlotte Lozier Institute conducted a study of 2,700 pregnancy help centers in 2020 and found that in 2019, these U.S. clinics “served roughly two million women, men, and youth with services estimated at a value of over $266 million. This outreach was accomplished through 14,977 total staff and 53,855 total volunteers, of which over 10,200 were licensed medical professionals (3,791 as staff and 6,424 as volunteers).”

The report details:

Medical services were provided by an increasing number of centers since last counted in 2017 [13] with: free obstetrical ultrasound services provided at 2,132 centers (79 percent), STD/STI Testing provided at 810 centers (30 percent), and STD/STI Treatment provided at 563 centers (21 percent). [14] In addition, 486,213 pregnancy confirmation ultrasounds, 731,884 pregnancy tests, 160,201 STI tests, and 967,251 consultations with new (unique) clients were all provided at little or no cost. [15]

PHCs were shown to be rich resources for support and education to improve maternal, child, youth and family health all at no cost, including: Prenatal and Parenting Classes at 2,312 centers (86 percent), Childbirth Classes at 742 centers (27 percent), Breastfeeding Consultations at 518 centers (19 percent), After-Abortion Support and Recovery at 1,931 centers (72 percent), Fertility Awareness-Based Methods at 188 centers (7 percent), Sexual Risk Avoidance Education Presentations to youth through 979 centers (36 percent).

PHCs also widely provided Material Item Services at 2,525 centers (94 percent). These items included: 1,290,079 packs of diapers, 689,382 packs of wipes, 30,445 new car seats, 2,033,513 baby clothing outfits, and 19,249 strollers.

The study also found these clinics report high client satisfaction (99 percent, on average per center), and are estimated to have saved 886,125 unborn lives since 2008.

The case is National Institute of Family Life Advocates v. Raoul, No. 3:23-cv-50279 in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. 

Katherine Hamilton is a political reporter for Breitbart News. You can follow her on Twitter @thekat_hamilton.


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