CHICAGO — Lawyers representing anti-abortion pregnancy centers are expected to appear before a federal judge in Rockford, just days after new abortion restrictions went into effect across the border in Indiana.
The Thomas More Society representing the National Institute of Family & Life Advocates is expected to file for an injunction Thursday, asking a federal judge to block the Illinois Attorney General from enforcing Senate Bill 1909, which anti-abortion proponents say is unconstitutional.
“It has a very chilling effect on our pregnancy centers because they don’t define what is ‘deceptive,'” said NIFLA attorney Anne O’Connor, adding that it’s a matter of free speech.
With help from the conservative Thomas More Society, the lawsuit filed last week focuses on Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul and the new Illinois Senate Bill.
“Pregnancy centers should be free to serve women and offer the support they need without fear of unjust government punishment,” O’Connor added.
Portions of SB 1909 aim to prevent what pro-choice supporters and other critics say has been a pattern of deceptive practices regarding religious-based pregnancy help ministries. But according to Planned Parenthood and others, the help centers too often disguise their facilities as Women’s Health Centers.
NIFLA denies the allegation.
“Definitely, it is a free speech issue because they’re regulating how we can advertise and we’ve had free speech issues with pregnancy centers before,” O’Connor said.
O’Connor pointed to similar Thomas More Society legal victories in California and elsewhere. But others reacted to additional developments.
“The people we are supporting are low-income working-class people,” said Illinois-based Alison Dreith, with the nonprofit Midwest Access Coalition, which works to help pregnant women travel to other states where abortion is legal.
“Instead of paying for the abortion procedure itself, we pay and book things like travel, accommodations, childcare and food,” Dreith said.
With Indiana’s near-total abortion ban going into effect Tuesday, Illinois abortion providers are seeing a surge.
“It’s already been impacting Illinois, Indiana and Kentucky,” Dreith said.
Eight hundred out-of-state clients sought help from the Midwest Access Coalition in 2021, with the number swelling to more than 1,600 women in 2022. At the current pace, an estimated 3,240 pregnant women are expected to travel to Illinois by the end of the year.
“I think there’s going to be a generational impact here on these abortion bans,” Dreith said.
In a written statement, AG Raoul said:
“The new law expressly acknowledges the right to hold and communicate deeply-held beliefs about abortion but makes clear that fraudulent and deceptive practices are not allowed. I will continue to defend the right of patients in Illinois to make their own reproductive health decisions based on timely and accurate information – free from unconscionable interference, deception and unfair practices.”