Illinois abortion law: Federal judge halts law targeting crisis pregnancy centers; Pritzker responds

Pritzker said crisis pregnancy centers placed next to abortion clinics in effort to spread misinformation

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Friday, August 4, 2023
Judge halts law targeting crisis pregnancy centers; Pritzker responds
Is abortion legal in Illinois? Gov. JB Pritzker has promoted legislation seeking to make the state an oasis in the Midwest for abortion rights.

AURORA, Ill. (WLS) -- Gov. JB Pritzker's new law targeting so-called crisis pregnancy centers is on hold after a federal judge granted an injunction to anti-abortion advocates.

On Friday, Pritzker was defending the law.

The new law made it illegal for pregnancy resource centers to engage in so-called misinformation about abortion, but a federal judge's ruling has blocked enforcement for now. It's a case that could come down to the issue of free speech.

After a lengthy hearing in his Rockford courtroom, Judge Iain Johnston issued a brief oral ruling on Thursday evening, saying the law violated the First Amendment. But the judge indicated filing a formal written decision would take until late Friday afternoon.

Anti-abortion groups filed their First Amendment suit within an hour of Pritzker signing the law last week. The measure expands Illinois' longstanding consumer fraud law to explicitly include crisis pregnancy centers, which abortion rights advocates say often employ aggressive tactics to confuse those seeking abortion care. Under the law, a judge or jury can award up to $50,000 in civil penalties for each act of fraud or deception proven in court.

The law was part of an ongoing expansion of abortion rights in Illinois as surrounding states have restricted access to the procedure in the 13 months since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.

At the Waterleaf pregnancy resource center in Aurora, there was relief Friday.

SEE ALSO: Illinois politics: New abortion law targets crisis pregnancy centers

Volunteers were once again sitting and praying right across the street from a Planned Parenthood clinic, which provides abortion care.

Jessica Brock is a member of Waterleaf's board of directors. She said staff and volunteers are trained so there are no deceptive practices.

"Our goal is to help women and to empower women, and to make sure that they have all the information to make the decision that's best for them," Brock said.

The new law, championed by Planned Parenthood, targets pregnancy clinics if they try to deceive or mislead women who were coming in for abortions.

Pritzker was on CNN Friday morning defending it.

"I'm confident this is constitutional. It's legal. Remember what they're doing. They're putting their crisis pregnancy centers next door to abortion rights centers, and they're directing people to go in their front door or telling them things that aren't true, often," he said.

Attorney Peter Breen represented the pregnancy clinics in court. He called the injunction a victory for free speech.

"And so the judge recognized that we had also argued that these are not uncontroversial topics when you're talking about abortion. That is the most controversial topic in our country today. And the government has no place in saying, well, this has been misinformation or this is true or this is false," Breen said.

The CEO of Planned Parenthood Illinois issued a statement saying in part, "I am frustrated that a federal judge temporarily halted a new law targeting organizations actively working to deceive people trying to access health care."

The Attorney General's office is expected to fight the injunction and could appeal the case, but for now the law remains on hold and pregnancy centers are shielded from civil action.

Attorney General Kwame Raoul, whose office pushed for the law during the General Assembly's spring legislative session, has often told the story of a visit to an abortion clinic where his driver was stopped by CPC volunteers who carried clip boards and attempted to divert him from going into the facility, instead saying they needed to check him in first.

A spokesperson for Raoul's office did not return a request for comment Friday, but last week he told reporters that he was "confident" the law would be upheld in court.

"You're not free to lie to people and to use deceptive practices and to sometimes take people away from where they were intending to go," Raoul said. "There's nothing in the First Amendment that protects that type of action."

Judge Johnston has not yet set a date for a hearing on the merits of the case, but he did say the preliminary injunction applies to all of the approximately 100 CPCs in Illinois - not just the named plaintiffs.

The judge is also presiding over a long-awaited bench trial in a related case next month over a 2016 law aimed at health care providers - including individual practitioners and faith-based hospitals - who have moral objections to abortion. The law, if allowed to take effect, would require providers with such objections to give patients information about where to get an abortion, and a referral if requested.

Johnston's colleague blocked the law in 2017 on First Amendment grounds, but litigation has been ongoing since. Since the law was first challenged in court, the U.S. Supreme Court in 2018 struck down a California law aimed at forcing crisis pregnancy centers to advise women about where to get an abortion.

Capitol News Illinois contributed to this report.