One of the most controversial pieces of legislation in the Illinois General Assembly this year was Senate Bill 1909, which is intended to hold anti-abortion "crisis pregnancy centers" (CPCs) accountable for deceptive and fraudulent practices. After a months-long battle, SB1909 was signed into law on July 27, 2023, and became Public Act 103-0270. This was a major victory for abortion access and bodily autonomy in a state that is increasingly important for patients traveling from out-of-state.
Before the ink from Governor Pritzker's signature on SB1909 had a chance to dry--literally, it was less than an hour--anti-abortion groups filed a lawsuit in federal court asking for a temporary restraining order, preliminary injunction, and permanent injunction, among a list of other requests. One week later, federal court Judge Iain D. Johnston issued the preliminary injunction.
We have been expecting this lawsuit, and the preliminary injunction, from the very beginning. Why?
Because we've seen this movie before.
In NIFLA v. Becerra (2018), the US Supreme Court's ruling set a clear precedent that requiring CPCs to post a warning/disclaimer on their premises was a violation of their First Amendment rights. The case originated in California federal court in response to the Reproductive FACT Act (2015). After that court case, the prevailing narrative continued to be that CPCs were permitted to continue misleading clients under the guise of "Free Speech."
Read also: "The Decisions We Forget"
The ruling in NIFLA v. Becerra was a significant loss in the fight for full bodily autonomy, but abortion rights advocates did not give up. A new approach was introduced in the years that followed: rather than compel speech, focus on deceptive advertising instead. The most pivotal example of this approach came out of Connecticut, with Senate Bill 835 / Public No. Act 21-17 (2021).
Of course, anti-abortion groups filed a federal lawsuit (Care Net Pregnancy Resource Center of Southeastern Connecticut v. Tong) to challenge the Connecticut law. Other states waited for the outcome of this case to decide how to proceed. Care Net and Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) withdrew their lawsuit nearly a year and a half later, in January 2023. This opened up a path forward for other states interested in pursuing similar legislation, including Illinois.
As of the time this blog post was published, the preliminary injunction issued by Judge Johnston is still in effect. We do not know how long this judicial proceeding will last, but we are optimistic that the law will ultimately be upheld.
Public awareness about anti-abortion "crisis pregnancy centers" is more important than ever.
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