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Fed court halts Illinois restrictions on pro-life free speech

law, justice, paperwork

Billion Photos | Shutterstock

J-P Mauro - published on 08/08/23

A lawsuit is challenging a new Illinois law that places restrictions and heavy fines on pro-life centers that do not encourage abortion.

A federal lawsuit has halted an Illinois law that restricts the free speech of pro-life centers throughout the state. Filed by a group of pro-life pregnancy centers, the lawsuit is questioning the constitutionality of the legislation, which could level high fines on pro-life groups that are deemed to have provided deceptive information, or omitted or misrepresented information about abortion.

On August 3, the case was heard by Judge Iain D. Johnson, who ordered that the law could not be enforced until the lawsuit had concluded. According to CNA, this temporary order has allowed pro-life pregnancy centers to continue consultations, speak freely with their clients, and continue to advertise their services. The lawsuit, however, claims that if the law goes unchallenged, the efforts of pro-life centers could be drastically stymied by restrictions. 

The lawsuit claims the law’s intention is to “chill and restrict” the First Amendment right to the free speech of those who work in pregnancy centers. It goes on to allege that the law breaches the 14th Amendment’s equal protections, aiming the censorship at pro-life organizations alone. Furthermore, it notes that the law’s cited reason – to prevent “deceptive practices” – is too vague. 

The law defines “deceptive practices” to include “fraud, misrepresentation, and false promises,” as well as the “concealment, suppression, or omission” of a material fact with the intent that others make decisions based on the concealed information. In practice, the law would require pro-life pregnancy centers to provide information encouraging women to seek an abortion, which is contrary to their purpose and beliefs. 

The law would target those who “interfere or prevent” a person from accessing an abortion clinic, the abortion pill, or when the intent is to encourage someone to visit a pro-life center. Lawmakers are left to decide what constitutes such an interference or prevention occurring, which could include whenever a pro-life pregnancy center is “conducting, providing, or performing pregnancy-related services.”

The law itself claims that all pro-life centers advertise with “deceptive, fraudulent, and misleading information and practice.” The wording of the law states: 

“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 reads. 

Thomas Glessner, the president of National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA), called the law a “blatant attack” on pregnancy centers in Illinois. He lamented that lawmakers are attempting to “deny mothers their constitutional right to choose life.” He said in a statement: 

“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.

Read more at CNA.

AbortionPro-lifeUnited States
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