Thomas More Society Files Brief Supporting Motion to Dismiss in Abortion Clinic Access Lawsuit

Queens Pro-Life Advocates Say NY Attorney General Claims of Harassment Are Without Merit

On September 20, 2017, in Queens, NY, Thomas More Society attorneys are defending a group of peaceful pro-life advocates from Queens against New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman in a federal lawsuit that accuses them of threats and violence against abortion clinic patients. Last week the Thomas More Society filed a motion to dismiss the New York Attorney General’s lawsuit. The motion argues that the lawsuit is without merit because it is actually an assault on the First Amendment rights of pro-life sidewalk counselors

According to Thomas More Society General Counsel Andrew Bath, “Most of these pro-life advocates are members of the Church at the Rock in Queens,” he stated. “As life-affirming Christians, they peacefully counsel women who are considering having an abortion. They conduct themselves reasonably and compassionately and offer information about abortion alternatives to those willing to listen.”

Schneiderman’s lawsuit, filed in June, was reputed to seek an end to what he charged is “a weekly pattern of threatening, obstructive and violent activity by a network of anti-abortion protestors at Choices Women’s Medical Center in Jamaica, New York.”

Of the fourteen pro-life counselors that Schneiderman has singled out, ten attend Church at the Rock. The congregation has been witnessing for life outside of the abortion facility weekly since 2012. In June 2016, Schneiderman initiated a yearlong investigation, claiming to have received “complaints of the protesters’ extremely aggressive behavior.” He called the church members efforts to offer support and alternatives to women considering abortion and to advocate for the rights of the unborn, “horrifying” and “illegal.” However, in five years, there have been no arrests and not a single citation.

Martin Cannon, Thomas More Society Special Counsel, explained that the accusations in Schneiderman’s lawsuit are unfounded, provide no particulars, and are composed of random claims that site no dates, times or circumstances.  “The AG’s alleged pattern of violence and vitriol on the part of these peaceful pro-life advocates is without basis. In fact, Schneiderman’s unwavering allegiance to abortion rights may have colored his judgment in this case, as there is not one documented and verified instance of the force, threat of force, physical obstruction, or following and harassing, of which he has accused our clients.”

The Thomas More Society supports the motion to dismiss the charges that Schneiderman has thrust upon the pro-life defendant for reasons, including:

  • The Attorney General has no standing to act “on behalf of the people” as his vocal adherence to the cause of abortion renders him unable to distinguish the State’s interests from those of the Choices clinic and its wealthy abortionist owner.
  • FACE, or the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances act, is unconstitutional by its very nature of censoring content in violation of the First Amendment rights to free speech.
  • Schneiderman’s application of FACE is faulty, particularly targeting pro-life speech and seeking to punish those who hold a pro-life worldview.
  • The alleged “weekly pattern of threatening, obstructive and violent activity” is insufficiently demonstrated and any standard of proof for Schneiderman’s accusations has not been presented.

Schneiderman’s legal action seeks to create a 16-foot buffer zone around the abortion business premises at Choices, as well as punish the pro-life advocates by forcing them to pay damages, penalties, costs and the state’s attorneys’ fees.

As a nonprofit public interest law firm, the Thomas More Society is vested in upholding the rights of free speech. Bath concluded, “These peaceful pro-life advocates have been exercising their right to free speech – which includes the freedom to share information on abortion alternatives- even if Mr. Schneiderman doesn’t like it. The New York Attorney General’s lawsuit seeks to deny our clients their fundamental First Amendment rights and is without factual or legal basis. We will vigorously defend our clients’ right to continue to peacefully deliver a pro-life message to abortion-minded women on the public sidewalk. This is why we are seeking a dismissal of the State of New York’s meritless attempt to deny our clients the rights guaranteed them by our Constitution.”

Read the Reply in Support of Motion to Dismiss by Griepp Defendants submitted to the United States District Court – Eastern District of New York in People v. Griepp et al by Thomas More Society attorneys here.

Thomas More Society Supports Wedding Cake Designer Who Refused to Celebrate Homosexual Marriage

Colorado Baker Seeks Protection of Free Expression Rights from US Supreme Court

Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, but the freedom to express that beauty – or not to – is a right protected under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. On September 8, 2017 in Washington, DC, the Thomas More Society filed an amicus curiae (“friend of the court”) brief with the United States Supreme Court in support of Jack Phillips, a Denver, Colorado, cake artist who has been denied his constitutional rights of self-expression and free exercise of religion by the State of Colorado. Phillips, the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop, was hauled into court by the Colorado Civil Rights Commission because he declined to use his artistic talents to celebrate a same-sex marriage ceremony in violation of his sincerely held religious beliefs. Continue reading

Thomas More Society Attorney Discusses Abortion Laws on Vocal Point with Jerry Newcomb

Thomas OlpAbortion advocates have managed to get some stringent laws passed in a few states now, most notably California, which force crisis pregnancy centers that provide loving alternatives to abortion to advertise—against their will and mission—that if a woman wants an abortion, she can get one by calling this phone number (with the number provided). Illinois now has this type of law, but the Thomas More Society is fighting it and has achieved a temporary victory. Thomas More Society Thomas Olp joins Jerry Newcombe on Vocal Point to discuss the issue and what’s at stake on jerrynewcombe.com.

 

Thomas More Society Files United States Supreme Court Brief Detailing Dangers

Medical Experts Agree that Surrogacy is Harmful for Mothers and Children

Gestational surrogacy, when a woman carries a baby in her womb for others, is harmful to mothers and children, according to an amicus curiae (“friend of the court”) brief filed by the Thomas More Society in the United States Supreme Court on August, 28, 2017 in Washington, DC. The filing was on behalf of five medical ethics advocacy organizations: the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians & Gynecologists, the Charlotte Lozier Institute, the National Catholic Bioethics Center, the National Association of Catholic Nurses – U.S.A, and the Catholic Medical Association.

The brief, which was filed by the Thomas More Society in the California surrogacy dispute M.C. v. C.M., highlights an array of troubling medical issues brought about through surrogacy. The petitioning organizations describe a voluminous and ever-growing body of medical research showing that surrogacy poses serious medical risks to both surrogate mothers and the children they carry.  

Key concerns addressed in the filing include:

  • Surrogate birthmothers endure even greater physical burdens than pregnant women who conceive spontaneously.
  • Infants conceived by surrogacy are at higher risk of adverse outcomes and fetal anomalies than infants conceived spontaneously.
  • Multiple embryo transfers increase the risks to infants conceived by in-vitro fertilization.
  • Children conceived by in-vitro fertilization have higher rates of birth defects, genetic disorders, and other anomalies.
  • Severance of the maternal-child bond harms both mother and child.

Continue reading

Thomas More Society Files Brief for Pro-Life Ob-Gyns Supporting Mom

Attorneys Argue that Right-to-Parent Trumps Property treatment of human embryos in Colorado Embryo Custody Case

On August 28, 2017, in Denver, CO, Thomas More Society attorneys have filed an amicus curiae (“friend of the court”) brief in a controversial Colorado embryo custody case. On behalf of the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the nonprofit public interest law firm submitted documents to the Colorado Supreme Court supporting Mandy Rooks, the mother of six cryopreserved babies. The embryos are those remaining in cryogenic storage after in-vitro fertilization procedures which allowed Ms. Rooks to deliver a son, and later twins, while married to Drake Rooks, the children’s father. Despite the couple’s divorce, Ms. Rooks wants to keep the babies for future implantation. Her now ex-husband has asked to the court to deliver the six embryos to him for destruction.

Attorney Rita Gitchell, Thomas More Society Special Counsel, spoke to one of the primary issues in the submitted amicus brief. “The appellate court erred in adopting a ‘balance of interest’ approach and treating the preserved human embryos as marital property in the divorce. Current science has established that these embryonic children are the result of procreation and are not property.”  For that reason any balancing of interests must include the interest in continued life of the living embryonic human beings. Continue reading

Thomas More Society Supports Shop Owner Who Refused to Celebrate Homosexual Marriage

Washington State Florist Seeks Protection of Free Expression Rights from US Supreme Court

Joan Mannix

Joan Mannix; Thomas More Society attorney

On August 25, 2017, in Washington, DC, the invitation to “say it with flowers” has proved problematic for a Washington state florist who is asking the United States Supreme Court to review her case. The Thomas More Society has filed an amicus curiae (“friend of the court”) brief in support of the request for review by Baronnelle Stutzman, floral designer and owner of Arlene’s Flowers in Richland, Washington. Stutzman was sued by a long-time customer when she declined his request to create floral arrangements for the celebration of his marriage to another man.

As a committed Christian, Stutzman believes that marriage is meant to be between one man and one woman. This presented a problem when she was asked to use her art of custom floral design to participate in and celebrate a marriage ceremony that would violate her sincerely held religious beliefs. Stutzman believes her First Amendment right to freedom of speech protects her against being compelled to create artistic expression for an event that contravenes her religious beliefs.

The Washington State Supreme Court disagreed and affirmed a ruling punishing the 71-year old Stutzman for running her business according to her faith. In 2015, the trial court found that Stutzman had violated the Washington Law Against Discrimination and the Washington Consumer Protection Act.  Stutzman has been ordered to pay a $1,000 fine, actual damages in an undetermined amount, and attorneys’ fees and costs expected to total hundreds of thousands of dollars. She can also no longer operate her business according to her beliefs without risking further legal sanction. The small-town florist is now seeking justice and validation of her constitutionally protected rights from the highest court in the land, the United States Supreme Court. Continue reading

Thomas More Society’s Peter Breen Confident of Victory in Pro-Life Battle

Undercover Journalist Daleiden Enters Not Guilty Plea in San Francisco Court

On August 24, 2017, in San Francisco, CaliforniaDavid Daleiden and his attorneys, including Thomas More Society Special Counsel Peter Breen, spoke to a supportive public following a hearing in the Superior Court of the State of California, County of San Francisco. Daleiden entered a plea of “not guilty,” after a hearing on his demurrer, which objected to the validity of the complaint filed by California Attorney General Xavier Becerra against Daleiden. Judge Christopher C. Hite did not grant Daleiden’s petition but, according to Breen, he did acknowledge that Daleiden will receive a hearing on his affirmative defenses at an upcoming preliminary probable cause hearing. Daleiden’s primary affirmative defenses are, first, that the undercover recordings at issue were made in public places and, second, that he sought and uncovered evidence of illegal partial birth abortions and medical battery on women seeking abortions, bringing his recording efforts under the violent crime safe harbor in the California recording statute. “We’re going to get a hearing on this,” declared Breen, who called the charges weak and outrageous, adding that “This case should have never been brought.”

The charges revolve around undercover videos made by Daleiden and colleague Sandra Susan Merritt during their research for the Center for Medical Progress. Becerra is accusing Daleiden of privacy violations, even though the film footage was shot in public locations, including restaurants and hotel conference rooms. The videos expose the alleged involvement of Planned Parenthood in trafficking aborted baby body parts. Continue reading

Thomas More Society Announces Its New Executive Vice President and General Counsel

Andrew Bath Brings to the Thomas More Society Expertise as the Top Legal Officer of a Large, National Nonprofit, as Well as a Long Commitment to Life, Family, and Religious Liberty

 Andrew M. Bath has joined the Thomas More Society as Executive Vice President and General Counsel, after serving for many years in the same position with Boys Town, the world-famous organization founded by Fr. Edward J. Flanagan, with facilities across the nation for at-risk youth.

“We are delighted Andy Bath has agreed to move into a key leadership role at the Thomas More Society,” said Tom Brejcha, Thomas More Society founder, President, and Chief Counsel. “With his experience running the legal department of a large, national nonprofit, as well as his national connections, he will be an enormous asset for the Thomas More Society. This is a great step forward.”

Mr. Brejcha continued, “Andy also has a long commitment to our issues. He has been active in the pro-life movement for over 30 years. In fact, he was the Chairman of the Board of the Wisconsin Right to Life Political Action Committee when he practiced law in Milwaukee. He has long been an active member of the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C. Andy has consulted on many nationally significant cases in recent years involving issues of life and religious freedom. And he has a working relationship with many of the top lawyers in the country in these areas.”

“Andy understands the crucial importance of protecting our God-given rights under the law,” said Mr. Brejcha. Continue reading

Thomas More Society Attorneys Argue that Abortion-Inspired Restrictions are Unconstitutional

Pro-Life Advocates Ask Federal Appeals Court to Burst Chicago Bubble Zone Law

On August 21, 2017, the challenge to the Chicago law creating a “bubble zone” around abortion clinics moved on to federal appellate court with last week’s Thomas More Society filing in the United State Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit Court. Lawyers for the plaintiffs in Veronica Price et al. v. The City of Chicago et al., the Thomas More Society charges that the restrictive ordinance is unconstitutional, prohibiting free speech and censoring the content of free speech.

The “bubble zone” ordinance, which has been applied exclusively to abortion facilities, designates a 50-foot radius from an abortion clinic entrance as an area in which persons are prohibited from intentionally coming closer than eight feet to any other person, unless that person gives permission, “for the purpose of passing a leaflet or handbill to, displaying a sign to, or engaging in oral protest, education, or counseling with such other person.”

Veronica Price, one of the sidewalk counselors suing the city, explained, “My desire as a sidewalk counselor is to give hope and help to women and men considering abortion. Many parents are unaware of the support that is available. By providing information on pregnancy resource centers, church programs, social services and adoption agencies, I can reach out and caringly offer help. Sadly, the bubble zone is not protecting women who are considering an abortion. It is taking away their right to choose. By unconstitutionally denying my right to share important information with women at a critical time, we are doing them a great disservice.”

Price, along with fellow plaintiffs Ann Scheidler, Anna Marie Scinto Mesia, and David Berquist, peacefully exercise their First Amendment rights on the public ways near Chicago abortion facilities. They reach out to women who approach abortion clinics. The City of Chicago enacted the ordinance in 2009, after almost no notice and only two committee hearings, because Alderman Vi Daley claimed that some women outside a Planned Parenthood abortion clinic in her ward were being “followed and photographed.” In fact, Chicago had experienced no mass blockades, few arrests, no convictions and no violence at the handful of abortion clinics that have had a long-term pro-life presence.  Rampant misapplication and selective enforcement of the law even resulted in a May 2017 settlement that required Constitutional rights education for Chicago police.

Thomas More Society Senior Counsel and Co-Executive Director Thomas Olp explained, “Contrary to pro-abortion propaganda, pro-life counselors do not intimidate women approaching abortion clinics. That type of engagement would be ineffective. Pro-life sidewalk counselors compassionately and calmly approach women, one-on-one, to offer them information about abortion alternatives, of which many are unaware. The Chicago bubble zone ordinance deliberately curtails our clients’ First Amendment rights.”

The Chicago ordinance is a copycat of Colorado’s similar floating bubble zone statute. In 2000 the Colorado statute was upheld by the Supreme Court in Hill v. Colorado, 530 U.S. 703, over strong dissenting opinions by Justices Scalia and Kennedy.  Since then commentators and scholars have condemned the decision as a flagrant abridgment of freedom of speech.  More importantly, since Hill, Supreme Court decisions have undercut the rationale of Hill in significant ways.  First, the Court no longer recognizes that adults on the public sidewalk have a right to avoid “unwelcome speech.”  Second, a statute that regulates based on the content of speech is by definition content based and subject to strict scrutiny, which laws rarely survive.  Here the Ordinance prohibits “oral protest,” “counseling,” and “education,” which requires a regulator to look at the speech itself to see what category it falls under.  This makes the regulation content based by definition.

In addition, according to Olp, is “vague and overbroad,” and does not “serve any legitimate interest of the City”  because the City never had an issue with obstruction of access to clinics in the City.  “Yet, the Ordinance creates a no speech zone in front of every medical facility in Chicago.” But recent Supreme Court decisions (especially McCullen v. Coakley, 134 S.Ct. 2518 (2014)) prohibit government regulators from relying on a copycat approach.  The City must prove that the speech regulation can be justified in the context in which it is being enacted, and in order to resolve real problems with safety and access.  There aren’t any here.”

Olp continued, “This is a special interest law benefitting only abortion clinics.  Imagine if this law were applied across the board.  Since unconsented to approaches are prohibited, approaching close to a person to offer a free food sample, point of purchase coupon, trial subscriptions, etc., would be prohibited absent prior consent. If this law were applied to any other industry, its irrationality would be evident.  Why should the abortion industry be given a special preference at the expense of free speech?  There is no good reason.  Even the ACLU opposed the Chicago Ordinance.”

Read the appeal of the United States District Court, Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division, filed by Thomas More Society attorneys with the United State Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit Court in the case, Veronica Price et al. v. The City of Chicago et al., here.

 

 

Thomas More Society Upholds Public’s Right to See How Tax Money is Spent

Federal Court Sides with Daleiden in University of Washington Fetal Tissue Investigation

On August 14, 2017, in Seattle, WA, Thomas More Society attorneys have won an appeal on behalf of undercover journalist David Daleiden, against a group of University of Washington research lab employees and abortion facility personnel. The government employees and the abortion personnel are seeking to force heavy redactions in public documents about their work procuring, processing, and transferring the organs and tissue of aborted human fetuses, in connection with the school’s taxpayer-funded Birth Defects Research Laboratory.

The Washington state Public Records Act requires full disclosure, but a lower court ordered the redactions, holding that the First Amendment required them. However, a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has now reversed that decision, unanimously holding that the District Court had not provided the facts and law sufficient to make a “clear showing” that the U.S. Constitution requires the heavy censoring of these public records. Thomas More Society Special Counsel Peter Breen, who argued the appeal, explained that the order, delivered August 14, 2017, sends the case back to the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington, in Seattle, which must now specify and justify its decision.  

“This case began when our client requested public records from the University of Washington about its publicly funded research lab,” stated Breen.  “Mr. Daleiden’s broad-ranging investigation into the trafficking of aborted fetal remains led him to look into the University of Washington’s fetal tissue research and acquisition practices. He asked that names and personal contact info be redacted from the records, but the abortion advocates and government employees pressed for full censorship, even of entity names, job titles, and departments within the university. Such heavy redactions render these public documents useless for investigative purposes.”

The employees, identifying themselves legally as Jane Does and John Does, sued in August 2016, claiming they “would likely face threats, harassment, and violence” if the records were disclosed, even with names and personal contact info redacted. The District Court entered its preliminary injunction requiring heavy redactions on November 15, 2016, and the case has been stayed since then, pending the result of Daleiden’s appeal.

Senior Circuit Court Judge A. Wallace Tashima, and Circuit Judges Jacqueline H. Nguyen and M. Margaret McKeown, heard the arguments and issued the unanimous order reversing the decision by the District Court. In particular, the appellate judges criticized the lower court for misapplying case law in granting a Motion for a Preliminary Injunction.  

“The Court of Appeals, by reversing this decision and remanding this case back to District Court, has prevented a serious threat to the public’s right to know how their tax dollars are being spent,” added Breen.

Read the order issued August 14, 2017, by the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversing the preliminary injunction and remanding Jane Does 1-10, et al v. David Daleiden, et al back to the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington here.

Read the briefs from the case in which the December 15, 2016 Notice of Appeal in the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit was filed: