Citing concerns about free speech infringement, a federal judge has temporarily blocked a new Illinois law that targets crisis pregnancy centers.
The Deceptive Practices of Limited Services Pregnancy Centers Act would allow the state attorney general to investigate complaints about crisis pregnancy centers and prosecute incidences of consumer fraud in such cases. Violators of the law could face up to a $50,000 fine.
U.S. District Judge Iain Johnston, a Trump appointee, described the law as “painfully and blatantly a violation of the First Amendment.”
The August 3 ruling was issued following four hours of testimony from pro-life advocates who claimed that the law infringed on their free speech, including their ability to distribute literature about alternatives to abortion.
“It’s going to stop us from offering mothers a choice,” said Kevin Rilott, director of the Rockford Family Initiative and a plaintiff in the lawsuit. Before the law went into effect, Rilott said, nearly 100 people regularly attended their prayer vigils. That number has since dwindled to about 30 people.
Attorney Peter Breen of the Thomas More Society, who represents the plaintiffs, applauded the ruling.
“It was very heartening to know that the judge recognized that our clients are facing a credible threat, that their speech is being chilled, and that’s really important,” Breen said. “No matter which side of the abortion issue you’re on, we don’t silence speech. The judge made that point very clearly today.”
On July 27, Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed the bill empowering the state attorney general to prosecute crisis pregnancy centers deemed to be using “deceptive tactics” to influence pregnant women who come to them to not get abortions.
“Women need access to comprehensive, fact-based health care when making critical decisions about their own health—not manipulation or misinformation from politically motivated, nonmedical actors,” Pritzker said in a statement when he signed the law. “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.”
Jim Harden, CEO of the pro-life New York-based organization CompassCare, described the Illinois law targeting crisis pregnancy centers as a means of weaponizing legislation to create a chilling effect against defending the sanctity of human life.
Harden said the Illinois law gives the state’s attorney general the “unfettered ability to define what ‘deceptive practices’ means and what ‘misinformation’ means when it comes to the activities and speech of pro-life pregnancy centers.”
Pritzker decried the judge’s injunction but predicted the law would be upheld. “I’m disappointed that the far-right is interfering with the ability for women to access safe medical care without deception or lies,” the governor said in a statement. “This law is constitutional, and I am confident that the law will ultimately be found constitutional, and we’ll continue to work alongside Attorney General Raoul to ensure Illinois patients are protected from misinformation.”
Photo: Viviana Rishe / unsplash.com