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New York attorney general censors pro-life speech

Pro-life centers and groups fight back in a recent lawsuit

New York Attorney General Letitia James Associated Press/Photo by Bebeto Matthews, File

New York attorney general censors pro-life speech

Two pro-life pregnancy centers and a network of affiliated centers are suing New York’s attorney general for censoring constitutionally protected speech.

State Attorney General Letitia James has threatened New York pregnancy centers that provide information about progesterone, an abortion reversal treatment that can block the effects of the abortion drug mifepristone. In early May, James sued 11 other faith-based pro-life pregnancy centers and a network of affiliated centers for allegedly sharing “false and misleading” information about the progesterone treatment.

In late May, the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates, Gianna’s House, and Options Care Center sued James for unlawfully targeting pro-life pregnancy centers in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of New York.

While these organizations are not part of the 12 that James had already sued, they are proactively protecting themselves from threats and punishments from James, said Lincoln Wilson, senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, which represents the organizations.

Many pro-abortion organizations claim that progesterone treatment is experimental and unsafe for women. However, pro-lifers argue that progesterone is widely accepted as safe treatment for women at risk of miscarrying, and they point to a study showing that mifepristone, not progesterone, is dangerous. Statistics show that abortion pill reversal has likely saved over 5,000 unborn babies and has a 64-68 percent success rate.

James, an avid promoter of pro-abortion policies, claims pregnancy centers that present progesterone as an option have made “repeated and persistent misleading and/or false claims and omissions” that violate New York’s Business Fraud Statutes.

She is threatening the 12 religious organizations she sued with “injunctive relief, restitution, damages, civil penalties, auditing and compliance review, costs, and such other” relief from New York’s courts, according to the lawsuit. In late April, several of the sued organizations and other centers also jointly filed a lawsuit against the New York attorney general.

James is trying to force pregnancy centers, including those she didn’t expressly target, to “stay quiet” on abortion treatment reversals, Wilson said.

Already, her actions have caused these organizations to “self-censor” and remove speech about the treatment from their online and print materials, he said. For instance, Gianna’s House took off its website the statement “it may be possible to undo the effects of abortion drugs” for fear of retaliation, according to the lawsuit.

James’ actions threaten the free speech rights of pregnancy centers across the state, Wilson said. This case is fundamentally about the First Amendment rights that these organizations have to share their views on scientific issues, he said.

“People have the right to speak up about any number of publicly contentious issues … especially when it concerns a scientific question,” Wilson said. “The idea that one view of a science is locked in and anyone else who disagrees is saying something false and has to be stopped—that is really antithetical of the First Amendment.”

Wilson said the attorney general’s actions are essentially proxy discrimination against Christians and religious organizations, as many pregnancy centers are Christian.

The centers are also protected by 14th Amendment vagueness concerns. James has no evidence to back up her claims that the centers’ statements on the treatment have misled or harmed anyone, Wilson said.

The lawsuit also notes that “despite saying that she supports women’s choice, the attorney general seeks to deprive women who change their mind and want to continue their pregnancies.”

James’ lawsuit is the latest in a national campaign against pregnancy centers since the landmark Supreme Court decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization, Wilson said. Cases like these have been on the rise due to state governments “twisting” consumer fraud laws, he said.

In Vermont, ADF filed a lawsuit against a state law that targets and censors pro-life pregnancy centers’ ability to advertise their services or provide health-related information on issues like abortion reversal treatments. If the centers don’t comply, they could be fined thousands of dollars.

Last September, California Attorney General Rob Bonta filed a lawsuit against Heartbeat International and RealOptions Obria Medical Clinics, targeting similar statements about abortion reversal treatments. In February, attorneys at Thomas More Society asked the California Superior Court to throw out the lawsuit.

If the New York courts rule in favor of pro-life pregnancy centers, it would be a significant ruling country-wide that could stop the trend of cases, Wilson said. Cases like these could also have a potential impact on other contentious scientific debates, like gender-affirming care, he added.

For this lawsuit, though, it’s a case of “clear harassment” from the attorney general, according to Wilson.

“It’s offensive to the constitution,” Wilson said. “The law simply doesn’t permit her to have this sort of broad enforcement theory against pregnancy centers. We hope that the federal court will see it that way.”

Liz Lykins

Liz is a graduate of the World Journalism Institute.


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