Huge Victory for Illinois Pregnancy Help Ministries: SB 1909 Halted by Federal Judge

August 4, 2023
By
Joe Barnas

Concluding a marathon five-and-a-half hour hearing on Aug. 3, U.S. District Court Judge Iain D. Johnston granted Thomas More Society’s motion for a preliminary injunction against Illinois Senate Bill 1909.

This massive victory makes it clear that pro-life speech cannot be singled out and pregnancy help ministries cannot be discriminated against by the state of Illinois on account of their viewpoint. “The injunction granted today sends a strong, clear message to the country that the First Amendment protects pro-life speech,” said Thomas More Society’s Peter Breen in response to the ruling.  

“I'm very heartened that the judge recognized that our clients are facing an incredible threat and their speech is being chilled,” Breen added outside the courthouse, following the hearing.  

Pritzker has already responded to the injunction, appearing on CNN to insist SB 1909 is constitutional and promising to fight back against our lawsuit.  

Judge Johnston ruled from the bench, saying that SB 1909 is painfully and blatantly a violation of the First Amendment. Pregnancy help ministries across Illinois can now breathe a sigh of relief and continue to minister to pregnant women in need, providing critical services and resources without fear of ruinous fines and costly litigation.  

After Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed SB 1909 into law on July 27, Thomas More Society— representing the National Institute of Family Life Advocates, or NIFLA, and other Illinois pregnancy help ministries—filed a lawsuit seeking immediate relief from this unconstitutional law.  

Announcing the signing of the law on July 27 from the Planned Parenthood Illinois Action office in Chicago, Illinois, Raoul stated that he believed it “can and will be upheld against any challenges” and that “there is nothing in the First Amendment that protects” the actions of pro-life pregnancy help ministries that were targeted by SB 1909.  

With this preliminary injunction now granted, Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul—the law’s author and primary advocate—cannot wield it against pro-life pregnancy help ministries while litigation on the matter continues.  

“We are incredibly grateful to our attorneys at the Thomas More Society for their relentless work fighting for pregnancy centers to continue to help women in need,” said Thomas Glessner, President of NIFLA. “This is a huge win for women and their families seeking assistance for an unplanned pregnancy, many of whom have nowhere else to go for help. It's also a big win for pro-life pregnancy centers whose First Amendment rights have been blatantly attacked by the state of Illinois who want to force them to go against their deeply held beliefs that women deserve better than abortion.”

“Governor Pritzker went so far overboard with this law, demanding people who don't agree with him outrightly go against their beliefs and support his radical abortion stance,” Glessner continued. “We are thrilled with the judge's decision to issue the preliminary injunction against this unconstitutional law and hope it follows Roe into the trash heap.”

SB 1909 targeted pregnancy help ministries by labeling their constitutionally protected speech—but not abortion facilities’ speech—as so-called “deceptive business practices.” It openly targeted alleged pro-life “misinformation” on the basis that pro-life views conflict with Illinois’s rampant pro-abortion ideology. But in doing so the law ran headlong into bedrock protections of the First Amendment, which prohibit government from cutting off one side of ongoing controversies by censoring speech with which it disagrees, and from discriminating against religiously motivated speech.  

With little-to-no guidance on what could be considered “deceptive practices,” pregnancy help ministries faced the threat of investigations, fines of $50,000 per violation, injunctions, and even forced dissolution of their nonprofit ministries. Under the guise of clamping down on “misleading” or “concealing” information, SB 1909 empowered the Attorney General’s Office to prosecute pregnancy help ministries for providing medically pertinent information that may cut against the pro-abortion narrative.

This preliminary injunction makes it abundantly clear that the state of Illinois cannot co-opt consumer protection laws to shut down a public debate or force people of faith to deliver talking points in favor of abortion.  

Thomas More Society will continue to litigate the case further, seeking a permanent overturn of the law—on the basis that it violates the First and Fourteenth Amendment rights of Illinois’ pro-life pregnancy help ministries.