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Pro-life pregnancy help ministries sue Illinois attorney general over SB 1909

by | Jul 28, 2023

Thomas More Society invokes First Amendment against Illinois’ redefinition of pro-life speech as “deceptive business practice”

By Tom Ciesielka

Peter Breen

On Thursday, Thomas More Society attorneys filed a federal lawsuit against Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul, seeking to stop him from enforcing Illinois Senate Bill 1909, a measure drafted by Raoul’s office that declares the pro-life speech of the state’s life pregnancy help ministries to be a “deceptive business practice.”

Thomas More Society is representing NIFLA, a national pregnancy help center network, along with several Illinois pregnancy help centers and pro-life organizations.

“This law is a blatant attempt to chill and silence pro-life speech under the guise of ‘consumer protection,’” explained Peter Breen, Thomas More Society Executive Vice President and Head of Litigation, and a former Illinois State Legislator. “Pregnancy help ministries provide real options and assistance to women and families in need, but instead of the praise they deserve, pro-abortion politicians are targeting these ministries with $50,000 fines and injunctions solely because of their pro-life viewpoint.”

The lawsuit, filed in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Western Division, seeks a temporary restraining order, preliminary injunction, and permanent injunction against SB 1909. If temporary and preliminary injunctions are granted, they would prevent the law from being enforced while the case makes its way through the court system.

“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,” said Thomas Glessner, President of NIFLA. “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. 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.”

Under this new revision to the Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act, the state seeks to curtail the speech of pro-life organizations by illegally targeting their efforts to “dissuade pregnant [women] from considering abortion care.”

It also faults pro-life organizations for “pay[ing] for advertising… that is intended to attract consumers to their organizations and away from medical providers that offer” abortions, accusing the pro-life organizations of providing misleading information “overstating the risks associated with abortion.” Yet, Breen asserts, and as the filing states, that all of the abortion-related information provided by these pro-life centers and organizations is backed by scientific research.

“In addition to being unconstitutional and extremely prejudicial,” added Breen, “state officials have not had cause to take legal action against pregnancy help centers, using the tools of the law that were already available.”

This lawsuit, Breen stated, has been filed to protect the right of pro-life pregnancy help centers and sidewalk counselors across Illinois to continue their meaningful and important work of providing compassionate and competent advice, care, and support to thousands of women across Illinois facing unplanned pregnancies.

Breen observed that the instigation of the new law, backed by Raoul, is completely without rationale or provocation. The Illinois Attorney General’s Office has not been able to provide any hard evidence that pregnancy help centers engage in so-called “deceptive practices.” According to Freedom of Information Act documents obtained from Raoul’s office, Breen shared that “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.”

Breen also testified before the Illinois House Health Care Availability & Accessibility Committee, which voted to advance SB 1909, despite receiving more than 17,000 witness slips from voters opposing the bill and only a little over 3,000 supporting it.

Read the Complaint, seeking Temporary Restraining Order and Permanent Injunction from the State of Illinois’ just enacted Senate Bill 1909, filed on July 27, 2023, in the United States District Court – Northern District of Illinois Western Division, by Thomas More Society attorneys on behalf of the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates, Women’s Pregnancy Services, Rockford Family Initiative, Relevant Pregnancy Options Center, and Pro-Life Action League, in NIFLA, et al. v. Kwame Raoul here.

Read about the testimony of Peter Breen in opposition to Illinois Senate Bill 1909 given before the Illinois House Health Care Availability & Accessibility Committee on April 25, 2023, here.        

Editor’s note: This article appeared at Thomas More Society.

Categories: Free Speech