Pro-life advocates in Illinois are celebrating the first of what they hope to be many victories in the fight against a new state law that would force pro-life doctors, nurses and pregnancy centers to refer patients for abortions, following a preliminary injunction handed down late Tuesday.
The injunction, granted by Judge Eugene Doherty of the 17th Judicial Circuit Court in Winnebago County, halts a 2016 change in Illinois’ Healthcare Right of Conscience Act that would have forced pro-life medical professionals and nonprofits to refer patients directly to abortion businesses upon request.
Applying only to the named defendants in Pregnancy Care Center of Rockford, et al. v. Bruce Rauner et al, the preliminary injunction could set the stage for good news in a broader case challenging the law in federal court.
That hearing is scheduled for Jan. 10, 2017—10 days after the law was set to go into effect.
“We are optimistic and we are grateful,” Tiffany Staman, executive director at Pregnancy Care Center of Rockford, said. “We realize this is just the beginning of the road, but we’re really grateful that the court ruled based on our free speech rights that are found in the Constitution. We are looking forward to 2017 and following God’s leading every step of the way.”
In the court’s order granting the preliminary injunction, Judge Doherty agreed with the three pregnancy help organizations and one physician, Dr. Anthony Caruso, named in the case that the state’s amendment violates their free speech rights by compelling them to speak a state-sponsored message—particularly since the state is equipped to speak its own message without forcing others to do so on its behalf.
Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), which represents the pregnancy centers in lawsuits at state and federal levels, also represents pro-life organizations in California who are battling a similar push by the state to compel them to post signage advertising state-funded abortions.
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“No state has the authority to compel health professionals, against their will and their sacred oath to ‘do no harm,’ to promote abortion,” Matt Bowman, senior counsel for ADF, said in a statement following Tuesday’s injunction. “We commend the court’s ruling which is a victory for free speech and the freedom of conscience”
Susan Barrett, who serves as executive director at Chicago-based Aid for Women—one of the named plaintiffs on the suit—wrote to supporters Tuesday evening informing them of the news while keeping them prepared for a long battle ahead.
Since at least 2009, abortion advocacy groups such as NARAL Pro-Choice America have backed state and local legislative efforts to force pro-life pregnancy centers to speak government-dictated messages that often run specifically counter to the organizations’ pro-life missions.
Two separate cases where governments have tried to enforced compelled speech on pregnancy centers on the East Coast—one in New York City and the other in Baltimore—have been ongoing since 2010, even though courts have consistently ruled that they are unconstitutional infringements.
Other cases where state and local governments have unsuccessfully attempted to force pro-lifers to speak a compelled message include Austin (TX) and Montgomery County (MD), which eventually was ordered to pay pregnancy centers $330,000 in attorney’s fees.
“Our fight for our conscience rights, the lives of the unborn, and the best interest of women will press on,” Barrett said. “We are enormously grateful for the help of our friends at Alliance Defending Freedom in protecting and defending our life-saving work. We have an absolute moral and Constitutional right to save lives. This is precisely what we intend to continue doing.”
Heartbeat International president Jor-El Godsey, who was at the hearing and has urged the organization’s 49 affiliates in the state to refuse compliance with the law should it take effect, welcomed Tuesday’s decision and underscored the moral clarity of the court in going against the actions of the state.
“Judge Doherty has shown a great deal of courage in granting this injunction,” Godsey said. “As he points out in his opinion, the state does not have the authority to override its own citizens’ rights to conscience and free speech, which is exactly what is at stake here.
“Pregnancy centers and pro-life physicians—for the sake of conscience and on behalf of their patients—should never be forced to refer or in any way endorse a procedure specifically designed to take the life of a child.”