Pregnancy Help Centers Win Another Legal Victory in Struggle Against Oppressive Regulations

Thomas M. Messner, J.D.  


Pregnancy help centers (PHCs) have won a victory in their struggle against oppressive regulations.


At issue is a 2016 Illinois law regulating physicians and other health care personnel. Plaintiffs, including the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA), challenged the law, arguing, in the words of a federal district court, that it “compels [PHCs] to tell pregnant women the names of other doctors they believe offer abortions, and compels them to tell pregnant women that abortion has ‘benefits’ and is a ‘treatment option’ for pregnancy.”


This week a federal district court granted plaintiffs a preliminary injunction against the Illinois law. According to a new release issued by Mauck & Baker LLC, one of the law firms representing plaintiffs in the case, “The injunction prohibits the State from enforcing the law against healthcare facilities or physicians who have a conscience objection to performing abortions or making abortion referrals.”


“Late last year,” the Mauck & Baker release explains, “another group of pregnancy centers obtained an injunction in state court. In its opinion, the state court questioned as to why Illinois would require the very individuals who object to abortion services to become a source of information about them.”


In the order this week, explains Mauck & Baker, “the federal court wrote, ‘It is clear that the amended act targets the free speech rights of people who have a specific viewpoint.’”


The Charlotte Lozier Institute is heavily involved in defending the freedom of pro-life pregnancy help centers (PHCs) to serve mothers and their children without being forced to promote abortion.


In October 2016, the Lozier Institute published a paper by Timothy Bradley titled “Unconscionable: Threats to Religious Freedom and Rights of Conscience in the Abortion Debate.” That paper summarizes multiple cases involving PHCs.


Then, earlier this year, the Lozier Institute submitted an amicus brief to the U.S. Supreme Court in support of NIFLA and two California PHCs.


In its amicus brief Lozier explained that “more than 2,300 Pregnancy Help Centers (‘PHCs’) nationwide provide vital, highly valued services to vulnerable mothers and children on a free or low-cost basis.”


Lozier’s amicus brief reviewed and set forth “the findings of a major report on PHC work that demonstrates the enormous social value contributed by PHCs.” That report, published by the Family Research Council, found that


  • “In 2010, [PHCs] served over 2.3 million people with pregnancy assistance, abstinence counseling and education, community outreach programs and referrals, and public health linkages.”


  • “A conservative estimate of community cost savings for these services during 2010 is over $100 million.”


  • “In addition to specific cost savings, pregnancy centers drew on the help of 71,000 volunteers who performed an estimated 5,705,000 uncompensated hours of work in 2010.”


Lozier’s amicus brief goes on to explain that “forcing PHCs to refer for abortion undermines their mission and the principles that inspire them to serve vulnerable mothers and children.” The brief continues,


For the people who are employed by, donate to, or volunteer with local PHCs, the work is truly a labor of love. PHCs are devoted to loving both mothers and children through practical action. In many if not most cases this devotion springs from deeply held religious or moral commitments about the value of all human life and the obligation to serve those in society who are suffering, in crisis, or at disadvantage. Forcing PHCs to refer for abortion undermines their mission and burdens the principles that inspire them to serve mothers and children.


Whatever interest California might assert in providing information about the availability of abortion services, it cannot be denied that, as this Court has stated, abortion is a “unique act,” Planned Parenthood of Se. Pa. v. Casey, 505 U.S. 833, 852 (1992), and is “inherently different from other medical procedures, because no other procedure involves the purposeful termination of a potential life,” Harris v. McRae, 448 U.S. 297, 325 (1980). In the words of one federal court, “[t]he rationality of distinguishing between abortion services and other medical services when regulating physicians or women’s healthcare has long been acknowledged by Supreme Court precedent.” Greenville Women’s Clinic v. Bryant, 222 F.3d 157, 173 (4th Cir. 2000). Nowhere is the “unique” and “inherently different” nature of abortion more deeply felt than in forcing pro-life individuals and institutions to promote or participate in it.


In a recent paper for the Lozier Institute I argued


The culture wars have morphed into conscience wars. Middle ground disappears. The struggle to protect human life has opened a new front to protect the individuals and institutions that seek to protect human life.


Pro-abortion activists no longer content themselves with even unfettered access to abortion on demand throughout all pregnancy. The new goal for abortion activists includes forcing all but the smallest set of religious organizations to participate in abortion.


The struggle for civilizational values such as protecting innocent human life goes hand in hand with the struggle for greater political freedom and social flourishing. People of good will who support civil liberties or social justice should make common cause with the pro-life movement.


This week’s federal court decision in the Illinois case is an important victory in the continuing struggle to defend the freedom of pro-life individuals and institutions not to facilitate abortion.


Thomas M. Messner, J.D., is Senior Fellow in Legal Policy at the Charlotte Lozier Institute.


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