Chicago law firm fights for civil rights, against death culture
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By Matt Abbott
I recently attended the 10th year anniversary benefit dinner for the Chicago-based Thomas More Society, Pro-Life Law Center (www.thomasmoresociety.org), a "not-for-profit, public interest law firm ... dedicated to fighting for the rights and dignity of all human life. The Society vigorously defends clients in state and federal courtrooms around the country, addressing vital issues across the pro-life spectrum, including pregnancy discrimination, end-of-life health care, the right of conscientious objection for medical workers, and freedom of speech for peaceable nonviolent protest."
The dinner's program book contained the following summary of the Thomas More Society's many accomplishments in the last 10 years. The summary, written by TMS president and chief counsel Tom Brejcha, is most impressive!
"Some of the Many Cases Handled by Thomas More Society from 1997-2007"
by Tom Brejcha
Thomas More Society was forged in the crucible of courtroom conflict--the marathon landmark federal antitrust and "RICO" lawsuit, N.O.W. v. Scheidler. And so, we are "litigating lawyers" and our efforts over this last decade very largely have been undertaken in trial and appellate courts across the country. But as experienced litigators familiar with trials and appeals, we're often called upon to render advice and counsel to pro-life clients to help keep them out of court and to work toward their goals and, if at all possible, to achieve them by means that avoid going to court--writing demand letters, negotiating with federal, state and city officials, consulting with legislators, regulators and other decision-makers, and helping our clients to find ways to foster and advance pro-life values without undue or unnecessary sacrifice of their time, treasure or freedom.
We're not afraid to take on the toughest cases. And we persevere in them. Our aim and resolve is to "pitch complete games," even when cases go into "extra innings," and to help as many of those who call on us for help to the maximum extent possible. We're not merely interested in finding and pursuing "test cases" because every pro-life case is an important case! We're like David, and we cannot match the financial resources of the pro-abortion Goliaths--Planned Parenthood, American Civil Liberties Union, National Organization for Women, National Abortion Rights Action League Pro-Choice America, National Abortion Federation, Center for Reproductive Rights, etc. But pardon our immodesty if we declare that--with God's grace and our supporters' prayers from all over the U.S.--we can match them in lawyerly skill and experience. We've got truth and right on our side. We don't give up. As Yogi Berra said, "It ain't over till it's over." We bring this conviction to each of our cases. We're in this for the long haul.
We also believe in winning, wherever possible. It's not good enough merely to "make a good showing." Over the years we've found it all too common that pro-lifers go into court without benefit of qualified legal representation, only to find their legal rights ignored or trampled. Yes, we do our best to see that pro-lifers get legal help. But that's not good enough. It's important to do whatever it takes--provided we can find the lawyers and resources needed to do the job--to win every case that deserves to be won when our clients are in the right. And most of the time, they are in the right!
One key element in winning cases is to open dialogue and forge links and alliances with others similarly situated whose own causes and advocacy may be hurt by virtue of adverse legal precedents handed down against pro-lifers. Indeed, bad decisions against pro-lifers imperil the rights of other citizen activists, advocates and protest groups. This works in both directions. A key element in winning successive pro-life victories before the U.S. Supreme Court in N.O.W. v. Scheidler was our seeking and securing wide support among other protest leaders and groups--civil rights groups (e.g., Dr. King's SCLC), death penalty advocates and groups (e.g., Sister Helen Prejean and Citizens United Against the Death Penalty), disability rights groups (e.g., Not Dead Yet), animal rights groups (e.g., Fund for Animals, PETA), and peace advocates and groups (e.g., Pax Christi, the Berrigan brothers, Jonah House, Kathy Kelly, et al). When called on to lend aid to these folks who helped us, we do so whenever time permits and the effort is consistent with our paramount pro-life mission.
Here are some of the important cases we've handled, some of which are still going on:
N.O.W. v. Scheidler--We must tell you a bit more about this marathon mega-litigation than about our other cases, as this case triggered--indeed it necessitated--the birth of our Thomas More Society. This case will go down as a landmark in the annals of American law, having been before the U.S. Supreme Court for full dress hearing and disposition three different times! We're grateful to have won the last two appeals, by margins that were decisive and "bipartisan"--by 8-1 in 2003, and 8-0 in 2006.
N.O.W. v. Scheidler is still pending as the federal court weighs our claim for compensable "costs" for more than 21 years of nationwide class action litigation. The case's genesis traces back to June, 1986, when it was first filed in Wilmington, Delaware. Later it was transferred to Chicago. The original suit--filed by Morris Dees and his Southern Poverty Law Center for the National Organization for Women (N.O.W.) and two abortion providers in Delaware and Florida--asserted a federal antitrust "class action" claim for all abortion providers and all women seeking access to abortion in the entire United States. Defendants were Joseph Scheidler and his Chicago-based Pro-Life Action League, St. Louis pro-lifers, and pro-life heroine Joan Andrews who had been jailed in Florida for pulling the plug on a suction machine.
The thrust of plaintiffs' antitrust claim was that Scheidler had authored a book entitled Closed: 99 Ways to Stop Abortion (1985), in which he urged that pro-life citizens actively campaign to "shut down" the abortion industry. This was a wholly legitimate goal clearly analogous to the goals of those who urge fellow citizens to boycott or win legal bans against the commercial sale of products or services deemed morally objectionable (e.g., assault rifles or other firearms, tobacco, illicit narcotics, pornography, body parts, foie gras, etc.). Yet, Scheidler's advocacy was perversely attacked as "anti-competitive," i.e., as a conspiracy to achieve an "unreasonable restraint of trade" in a lawful market.
The antitrust laws were clearly intended to regulate economic behavior within lawful markets, and not moral and political efforts to get markets legally banned or boycotted on public policy grounds. But it took us five years to persuade the federal trial judge to throw out this baseless antitrust claim. Meanwhile, N.O.W. and the abortion providers also had amended their complaint to add new defendants (Randall Terry and his "Operation Rescue," a campaign of peaceful civil disobedience) and new claims under the federal extortion and racketeering (RICO) laws.
In a nutshell, the RICO claim was that pro-life sit-ins or "rescues" constituted the federal felony crime of extortion. But federal law defines "extortion" as "obtaining" of "property" of another by means of actual or threatened force, fear or violence. Clearly, pro-life "rescuers" who peacefully blocked the doors to abortion providers weren't trying to obtain anybody's property, let alone the providers' business. And contrary to plaintiffs' propaganda, there was no valid or credible evidence of actual physical violence on the part of pro-life defendants. The few pro-life activists (e.g., Paul Hill) who espoused or engaged in violence were never sued. The only real "force" involved in Operation Rescue was what Gandhi called "truth force" or "soul force"--a self-sacrificial surrender of one's body intended to melt hearts, not break heads. Like the sit-ins of the 1960's civil rights activists, whose tactics Dr. King celebrated in his classic April, 1963, Letter from Birmingham Jail as "peaceable, nonviolent direct action," the pro-life rescues were peaceful and no "obtaining" of "property" was attempted, let alone achieved.
Yet it took us until May, 1991, to convince our first trial judge to throw out both the antitrust and RICO claims as legally baseless. Dismissal of the entire case was affirmed by the court of appeals, without a single appellate judge dissenting. Our opponents appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which declined to review the antitrust dismissal--sealing our final defeat of that claim. But the high Court did agree to hear the abortionists' appeal of the RICO dismissal. In January, 1994, the Justices reversed the RICO dismissal by a 9-0 vote. Chief Justice Rehnquist wrote for the Court that the trial judge's rationale--that RICO did not apply to non-economic protesters--was overbroad as non-economic "enterprises" could be misused by "racketeers" and should be exposed to RICO suits. The Court didn't reach our principal defense that the "extortion" claim underlying the entire RICO case was fatally flawed.
The case went back to district court for trial in spring and early summer, 1998. The district court rejected our extortion defense, instructing the jury in terms casting such a wide dragnet under RICO as would have rendered Dr. King a "racketeer." Our appeal drew a hostile 3-judge panel whose head, a Clinton appointee, had been a N.O.W. member before she ascended the federal appellate bench. (We only found this out much later). The panel affirmed the trial judge and commended him for ruling against us.
Those were dark days in the wake of 9/11/01. But we persevered. Our last-ditch petition for Supreme Court review, supported by a broad coalition of other activist groups including Dr. King's SCLC, was granted. Then after further briefing, the Justices ruled for our side, 8-1! The Chief Justice wrote in the Court's majority opinion that the RICO judgments "must be reversed" and "must necessarily be vacated." The case was over. But the court of appeals panel seized on a frivolous contention that the Supreme Court had overlooked a few findings at the trial. Incredibly, the panel revived the RICO case, ordering further proceedings against our clients--as if throwing the dice on a gambit that the Justices wouldn't dare hear an unprecedented third appeal in our case. We took collective deep breaths, gritted our teeth, and filed that third appeal. Mirabile dictu! The Justices granted review a third time, ruling unanimously, 8-0 (Justice O'Connor having retired) that our pro-lifers deserved to win, period!
U.S. v. John Arena and Marie Wentworth--Two pro-life activists had been convicted of federal extortion in federal district court in Syracuse, New York, based on the same flawed, overbroad legal theory that the Supreme Court had rejected in the N.O.W. v. Scheidler litigation. We retained special counsel to file papers there and we convinced the judge that both federal convictions had to be vacated.
National Abortion Federation (NAF) v. Operation Rescue--This was a 1989 class action suit brought by NAF on behalf of all abortion providers in the State of California against Operation Rescue, Randall Terry, and other pro-life activists shortly after "rescues" were first used against providers in Los Angeles and elsewhere. A statewide injunction decree was issued against pro-life demonstrations at the sites of California providers. After we prevailed in N.O.W. v. Scheidler, our special counsel, Colette Wilson (now with U.S. Justice Foundation in San Diego), pressed the ACLU of Southern California to drop the case. California ACLU dropped the case and its statewide injunction against pro-lifers was dissolved.
Choose Life, Illinois, Inc. v. Jesse White, Sec'y of State (Specialty License Plates)--After winning N.O.W. v. Scheidler in 2003, this was one of the first major new pro-life cases that we filed, charging that Illinois' refusal to approve a "Choose Life" specialty license plate--while approving all variety of other specialty plates for the environment, for peace, for veterans, and for other special causes--constituted "viewpoint bias" in violation of the pro-lifers' First Amendment rights. Over 25,000 Illinois citizens had signed petitions for the "choose life" plate whose proceeds (perhaps $25 per plate, annually!) would be earmarked to support statewide adoption agencies. But the Secretary of State passed the buck to the General Assembly, where authorization bills were killed two years in a row. We filed suit and won summary judgment. The federal court upheld our contention that the Secretary of State himself had the necessary legal authority to approve the plate. The court ordered that the "choose life" plate be approved, produced and issued for sale. The judgment was held in suspense, however, when the State of Illinois filed an appeal, which is to be argued before the U.S. Court of Appeals on November 27, 2007. We intend to take this case to the U.S. Supreme Court, if necessary, to assure that "choose life" plates are available in all fifty (50) states.
Reviving Illinois' Parental Notice Law--Over a decade ago, Illinois legislators had approved a parental notification law for minor girls, and the bill was signed into law back then by Governor Jim Edgar. But the legislators had requested that the Illinois Supreme Court issue procedural rules to allow for constitutionally requisite expedited, confidential "bypass" hearings and appeals, so that girls caught in unusual family situations (incest, violence, etc.) or whom a judge deemed "mature" enough to dispense with parental notice could seek exceptions from the parental notice mandate. But surprisingly, the Illinois Supreme Court refused to issue the necessary rules for reasons that didn't make much sense. In any event, the ACLU filed suit and won an injunction barring enforcement of the Parental Notice Law as unconstitutional. Our Special Counsel, Paul Linton, convinced DuPage County State's Attorney Joseph Birkett to petition the Illinois Supreme Court last summer to issue the necessary procedural rules so that finally the parental notification law could go into effect. State's Attorney Birkett filed his petition, and we followed up with a very extensive, scholarly amicus curiae ('friend of the court') brief, reviewing the details of past proceedings in the federal injunction case and the relevant abortion jurisprudence on parental notice, and we also submitted a set of draft rules. We made our filing on behalf of the Illinois Catholic Conference, Concerned Women for America, Lutherans for Life, and a cluster of other Illinois pro-life, pro-family groups. A week after filing of our brief, the Supreme Court issued the new rules!
Then we had to press the office of the Illinois Attorney General (AG) to go into federal court and ask that the federal injunction be lifted so that the law could go into effect. It took several months' delay, but finally the Illinois AG did file in federal court and squarely requested that the injunction decree be lifted. Several months have passed by without federal action, and failing action in the next few weeks, we are planning to seek to intervene in federal court. After more than ten years of delay, parental notice should go into effect in Illinois without any unnecessary greater delay.
An Illinois Appeal: 'Dred Scott in a Petri Dish'--In a case of surpassing public interest that recalls the historic Dred Scott decision that some human beings may be classified as mere 'property,' an Illinois personal injury lawyer filed a lawsuit against an in vitro fertilization clinic on behalf of a couple whose embryo had been mislaid or lost. The lawyer's complaint alleged negligence causing property damage. But then he added a claim under the Illinois Wrongful Death statute. Two Cook County trial court judges dismissed the wrongful death count, ruling that only an embryo was at stake. But plaintiff's lawyer renewed the wrongful death claim before a third trial judge and the third judge handed down a carefully reasoned ruling that the wrongful death claim should be reinstated. Then the judge certified that his ruling should be immediately appealed. The appellate court held the appeal premature, probably trying to avoid such a "hot potato." But the in vitro clinic petitioned the Illinois Supreme Court, and the Justices responded with an order mandating that the appellate court proceed to hear and decide the appeal.
We were asked to intervene. Special Counsel Paul Linton crafted and filed a very substantial amicus curiae ('friend of the court') brief in defense of the trial court's ruling. The wrongful death statute authorizes suits by next of kin to recover damages whenever the life of a "human being at any stage of gestation or development" is lost through culpable neglect. Embryos are more than mere "property." According to the public policy declaration of the Illinois General Assembly that life begins at conception, they are human beings. That declaration is fully borne out by modern scientific authorities, which our brief cites and quotes over many pages. Common sense also dictates support for the trial court ruling, as an embryo is alive, not dead, and therefore qualifies as a "being." And if it isn't "human," then to what species does it belong? The ACLU and other pro-abortion groups filed briefs in opposition to our amicus curiae brief, urging that the American College of Gynecologists (ACOG) discounts the value of embryos until they are implanted in the womb, deeming them mere "pre-embryos" before implantation. But ACOG stands alone and at odds with science, which is on our side! Each human being is stamped with a unique biological blueprint (absent an identical twin!)--his or her DNA--upon the fusion of sperm and egg.
Soon we will find out whether the Illinois Appellate Court panel is prepared to do the right thing and affirm this Illinois trial court ruling. Or will the appellate judges blink at the law and the relevant science? Will they bow before the arrogant claims of our opponents that somehow we're at odds with the Zeitgeist and that the spirit of our times commands that we grasp for ways to depreciate the value of human beings to allow for their destruction whenever inconvenient or 'untimely'? Whatever the result, rest assured that we will press the matter as far and as high and as urgently we're able to press it!
Defending the Federal Ban on 'Partial-Birth Abortion'--We filed amicus curiae ('friend of the court') briefs in all three appeals in which the federal law banning the procedure known as 'partial-birth abortion' had been attacked by Planned Parenthood, Dr. Leroy Carhart, the ACLU and other pro-abortion litigants as unconstitutional. One brief was filed in the New York City federal case, on appeal before the Second Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. Two others were filed in the two appeals (Gonzales v. Carhart and Gonzales v. Planned Parenthood) that were reviewed by the U.S. Supreme Court. Both Supreme Court briefs, authored by Special Counsel Paul Linton, touched on critical issues before the high Court in ways that were distinct from the contributions of other amici and contributed to the Court's ruling last term, upholding the federal ban. Paul's excellent commentary on the ruling was widely circulated and reprinted.
Defending the Sanctity of Marriage for the National Office of the Knights of Columbus--We have filed amicus curiae briefs in defense of the definition of marriage as between one man and one woman and against attacks on those marriage laws as unconstitutionally 'discriminatory' in the state Supreme Courts of Connecticut, California and (soon to be filed) Iowa. Again, Special Counsel Paul Linton carried the laboring oar, crafting all three briefs in the same mold as his brief on behalf of the Catholic Conference of Maryland, which played a pivotal role in the recent rejection of the ACLU attack on traditional marriage by the Maryland Supreme Court.
Defending a Pharmacist's Right of Conscience Before the Wisconsin Appellate Court--We filed a substantial appellate brief on behalf of a courageous, faith-filled Wisconsin pharmacist, Neil Noesen, who was fined $20,000 and had his license suspended by Wisconsin's professional regulators after he refused to fill a prescription for an abortifacient. Noesen had been victimized by an adverse publicity blitz when his case was tried before an administrative judge in Madison, and the Board's ruling was manifestly erroneous in many respects. The ACLU, Planned Parenthood, and Wisconsin NARAL all filed briefs advocating that Noesen's sin--his conscientious objection--be punished severely. We await the court's ruling. We also advised conscientious pro-life nurses in San Jose, California, Waukesha, Wisconsin, and elsewhere, and we took Orange County nurse Karen Kelly's case up to the Supreme Court.
We're Mounting a Multi-Pronged Attack on Planned Parenthood for Lying its Way into Aurora, Illinois, to Open an Abortion 'Mega-Mill'--We are engaged in no less than four different cases, with another soon to be filed, arising out of Planned Parenthood's massive new abortion facility (13 surgical recovery rooms!) in Aurora, Illinois--the fastest growing city in the state. Cecile Richards, CEO of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, recently wrote her supporters that Aurora now represents "'Ground Zero' in the national fight to protect reproductive freedom."
First, we've filed a federal civil rights action to redress the city's suppression of the First Amendment rights of abortion protesters and participants in a 40-day prayer vigil at the site of the mega-clinic. Second, we've submitted a zoning lawyer expert's sworn declaration, detailing the many material omissions and misstatements in the permit applications for the mega-clinic, on behalf of Fox Valley Families Against Planned Parenthood and in opposition to another federal lawsuit filed by Planned Parenthood to stop a city investigation into its fraudulent procurement of temporary occupancy permits. Third, we filed a major libel lawsuit to redress the damage caused to the reputation of peaceable pro-lifers by the Planned Parenthood/Chicago Area CEO's defamation by false and malicious statements to the press and in newspaper advertisements that "those opposing us in Aurora" have committed violent crime and have a history of advocating violence by others. Fourth, we've filed an appeal from the Aurora zoning administrator's granting zoning and occupancy permits contrary to Aurora's own ordinances, requiring that "special use" zoning be obtained before either a non-profit health facility or surgical hospital could be opened in Aurora, with notice and the right to demand a hearing given to nearby landowners. Finally, we will soon file another suit against Planned Parenthood and Aurora to redress the fraud that Planned Parenthood has perpetrated on Aurora's citizens.
The Aurora cases afford an opportunity for achieving a breakthrough in municipal and zoning law. Too many cities have excepted abortion providers from compliance with applicable zoning laws for fear of getting sued by the ACLU. But mustn't abortion providers be good neighbors too? If it is really vital to install bulletproof glass in the Aurora facility, shouldn't nearby residents be alerted? If protests are expected, shouldn't that too be worthy of concern by land use regulators? And if "health services" are to be provided on a non-profit basis, removing high value commercial real estate from tax rolls, isn't that also a material concern? Finally, can't a city guard the integrity of its permit process, insisting that applicants tell the truth? Responding to many requests, we plan to craft a model ordinance for use by other municipalities that want to avoid what happened in Aurora.
State of Minnesota v. Otterstad and Rudnick--Earlier in 2007, we won a unanimous decision by the Minnesota Supreme Court reversing the criminal nuisance convictions of protesters who had displayed pro-life signs on an overpass in a Twin Cities suburb, just weeks before the 2004 national election. Stiff fines and even prison sentences had been imposed, and the Minnesota Appellate Court had affirmed this result--odious to the First Amendment. We went the extra mile, got a rare hearing before the state's highest court, and won a strong precedent for free speech.
Police Discipline in Des Plaines, Illinois--When a "bad cop" harassed and even assaulted and battered sidewalk counselors outside an abortion provider in this Chicago suburb, we pressed a complaint and triggered a disciplinary proceeding, working with the city's counsel and police administrators, winning the perpetrator's removal from the police force. In several other cases where pro-lifers have been attacked, we have intervened and made sure that prosecutors take strong action as the law provides.
A Baby's Corpse Hidden from Police on a Hot Florida Roof in Dade County, Florida--We've retained a private investigator and pathologist and undertaken the representation of next of kin for the purpose of pursuing a wrongful death claim against a Florida abortionist whose "clinic" delivered a baby who, although "born alive," was then brutally killed. An insider-informer phoned Hialeah police who secured a search warrant and demanded entry, only to find no evidence of crime as the baby's remains were placed on the roof and left there for several days. This too was reported to the police who secured another search warrant and on enforcing this one found the corpse. Dade County's coroner made an inconclusive report after an early autopsy, and county prosecutors so far have delayed taking action. We are now pressing them to follow up with a second autopsy by our expert pathologist, at our expense if not the county's, so as to prove homicide. A Miami U. law professor publicly opined that if the baby wasn't yet "viable," it couldn't be homicide--an opinion that couldn't be more wrong! We're also retaining local counsel to press this case civilly if criminal steps aren't taken.
Granite City, Illinois v. Angela and Daniel Michael (and Vice-Versa)--For the last year and a half we have been representing the Michaels who conduct "Small Victories" ministry outside the late term abortion provider, Hope Clinic in Granite City, across the Mississippi from St. Louis. So far we've negotiated favorable settlements in two lawsuits brought against the Michaels by Hope's lawyer, and we've won temporary and permanent injunctions for them against city efforts to suppress their pro-life protests. We're helping to defend Granite City's federal appeal of another injunction and damage award in a similar case against a Christian leafletter. And another case is set for jury trial next February, 2008. We're also defending a spurious criminal case against Mrs. Michael, a nurse, who parks an ultrasound van near Hope and saves many lives.
Planned Parenthood v. American Coalition of Life Activists--We tried to help the "other Thomas More Law Center," founded by multi-millionaire Tom Monaghan several years after our inception, which is based in Ann Arbor and with which we have no affiliation. We hired Prof. Ed Gaffney of Valparaiso Law School to recruit amici and to submit an amicus curiae brief supporting Ann Arbor's petition for U.S. Supreme Court review of lower court decisions in Oregon and California, affirming huge damage awards against pro-lifers, again on account of "threats" under an unduly broad definition of that term. Regrettably, the Supreme Court declined to hear the appeal.
U.S. v. [name omitted]--We are negotiating a very unusual 'pre-indictment diversion' for a lady in Detroit whose ardent Christian faith impelled her to phone a local abortion provider and "warn" them of eternal consequences if they didn't desist from killing infants. Though conceding that this lady poses no threat to society, the U.S. Department of Justice's reproductive rights section in Washington, D.C. decided it "had to prosecute her" for violation of the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act for "threatening" an abortion provider. Our client doesn't recall her exact words when phoning the provider, and with aid from Special Counsel Mark Vogel, a retired career federal prosecutor, we have managed--so far--to avoid federal indictment of this well-intentioned lady who acted in good faith but unwisely. We strongly advise against any pro-lifers phoning abortion providers under any circumstances. We're also defending a similarly troubling case near Cleveland, Ohio, where the charge is "telephone harassment."
U.S. v. Fr. Norman Weslin--We were privileged to provide support for the defense of Fr. Norman Weslin, who entered Dr. Carhart's notorious abortion facility in Omaha to kneel and pray there until he was arrested and prosecuted for a federal FACE violation--a felony. We were gearing up for appeal when news arrived that jurors had acquitted Fr. Weslin! Testimony that workers and patients could walk around him while he prayed convinced the Omaha jurors that nobody's access to abortion services was actually "interfered with" so as to warrant a felony conviction. We hailed the acquittal as a "blueprint for hope" for pro-lifers everywhere. But we strongly advised Fr. Weslin to keep out of the facility and pray on the public sidewalk in front of it.
Marsh v. City of South Bend and County of St. Joseph, Indiana--We hired Special Counsel Dave Wemhoff to file a suit against this city and county whose law enforcers insisted on threatening sidewalk counselors with criminal contempt proceedings for violating a "bubble zone" provision in an injunction decree handed down in 1989, to remedy acts of trespass--civil disobedience committed during the era of "mass rescues." The problem was that modern-day sidewalk counselors have no connection with the criminal acts that led to the injunction. It clearly does not apply to them. Such decrees are remedial and enforceable only against those whose acts need remedying and others "in active concert or participation with" those wrongdoers. Injunctions are not the same as ordinances or statutes that apply to the general population. The Mishawaka county judge disagreed, however, after which our clients balked at appealing. Now a new client retained us to prepare and file a federal civil rights suit to cure this injustice.
People v. Bill Klee (Columbus, Ohio)--Another pro-life veteran, octogenarian Bill Klee, stepped onto clinic property in Columbus to pass out leaflets, and when a clinic supporter tried to wrest them from his grasp, he pulled back, and she filed an assault and battery charge. We retained Special Counsel Tom Condit of Cincinnati to defend Bill, who was given only a slap on the wrist for trespass. Now Bill does his sidewalk counseling at a different Columbus abortion facility.
Vote Life v. Oak Forest and Palatine, Illinois--A citizen group, "Vote Life America," proposed to picket a state legislator's office in Oak Forest and at a busy intersection in Palatine, Illinois. Both of these suburbs insisted that "parade permits" were necessary. So we filed lawsuits and won injunctions against both municipalities and the protests proceeded peaceably as planned.
Civil Rights Suits v. Bridgeview, Mundelein, and Rockford, Illinois--The Battle for Aurora has diverted us from filing civil rights lawsuits prepared against each of these Illinois municipalities, each of which has misused local ordinances to suppress pro-life protests. The suits will be filed soon!
Skokie, Illinois, Tries to Suppress a Protest of 'The Da Vinci Code'--During summer, 2006, the Village of Skokie, Illinois, dispatched a platoon of squad cars to remove picketers from the Catholic group, The American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property, from a grass strip parkway outside the huge Old Orchard shopping center where a theatre was showing the movie, The Da Vinci Code, which the picketers were protesting. We promptly wrote the Village mayor, legal counsel, and police chief to protest this blatant suppression of First Amendment rights. The next day brought news that henceforward the Village would protect the protesters' rights.
People v. Mieding, Gemini, Vilim, Donohue, Eschbach, Rothlesberger, Newman, Nelles, Leys, Marcavage, Hetherington, Kelly, Ferner, Mooney, Hughes, Martin, Holliday, Raterink, Hangey, et al--We have defended numerous misdemeanor prosecutions against those who stand up and protest to save others' lives. Often these defendants lack resources or otherwise cannot get the legal defense to which they're entitled. Marcavage, for example, stood with a picket sign outside Wrigley Field to protest the "Gay Games," and suffered an illegal arrest. We mounted an aggressive defense and the case was abruptly dropped. In the teeth of the First Amendment, many protesters suffer trampling of their legal rights. Absent counsel, they have little recourse and often refrain from speaking out again to avert the "hassle." Thus we believe that this service we render in the so-called "gatehouses of justice" is as vital to the pro-life cause as the filing of any appellate court brief.
Ayotte v. Planned Parenthood of Northern New England--We filed an amicus curiae brief in the U.S. Supreme Court during 2005 in support of New Hampshire's parental notice law, which lower federal courts had struck down as "unconstitutional." Special Counsel Paul Linton's brief argued that the allegedly fatal flaw in the statute--lack of a health exception--was likely (based on statistics in other states) to arise in only a handful of cases and thus should not have been used as a basis for throwing out the entire law before it was ever enforced. Our brief also argued that a "severance" or "separability" clause warranted a tailored remedy focused only on cases where the health exception could be applied. In January, 2007, the Court handed down a unanimous per curiam decision that turned on the very points we had argued in our amicus brief, heralding a new era--we hope!--when abortion providers are no longer treated as immune from state regulatory measures.
Allowing Free Speech on Church Parking Lots without Risking the Church's Tax Exempt Status--Based on our helping a pro-life protester charged with trespass in Albuquerque, New Mexico, we were alerted to a grave problem that afflicts the Catholic Church nationwide and many other churches as well. We discovered that the legal office of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops has issued a formal opinion that pastors' allowing pro-lifers (or others) to disseminate leaflets or handbills on church parking lots would jeopardize the Church's tax exempt status. This is utterly false. If a pastor discriminates against viewpoints at variance with Church teaching, or only allows certain candidates to go onto the parking lot, this would be problematic. But why not let all comers leave their messages on car windows? What's at stake seems less a matter of the Church's tax exempt status than worries about housekeeping or bothering parishioners. Evangelization, however, seems to rate a higher priority than limiting clean up costs. If NARAL wants to propagandize Catholics or other Christians, bring them on! The more that folks know about what and how our opponents advocate, the better! We're preparing a "white paper" refuting the NCCB legal office's opinion which we intend to disseminate among the Bishops and--in cooperation with Priests for Life--as widely as possible before this upcoming national election.
Defending and Advising Pregnancy Help Centers--Our chairman, Jennifer Neubauer, had defended the Women's Center, a Chicago-based pregnancy help center which was among the defendants joined in the N.O.W. v. Scheidler RICO case. Jennifer won dismissal of the antitrust and RICO charges back in 1995. We've been advising and defending pregnancy centers in the Greater Chicago area and elsewhere (e.g., Los Angeles) ever since then, including a recent county grand jury investigation that proved utterly baseless and maliciously inspired. We've been poised and prepared to meet and defeat any claim that these life-saving ventures qualify as "fake clinics" that deceive women, as the opposition says. But while suits to this effect are often threatened, they have yet to be filed. Our Illinois Attorney General made similar threats while campaigning, but once elected she too backed off. But if need be, we're ready.
Defending the Defenders of Terri Schiavo--We traveled to Clearwater, Florida, twice to defend out of state defendants who were prosecuted for trying to bring food and water to the dying Terri Schiavo. We also were asked to consult with the Schindlers, Terri's family, in St. Petersburg about issues arising in the wake of Terri's death and publication of books by both the Schindler family and Michael Schiavo.
Libel Cases to Protect Pro-Lifers' Good Names--In addition to the recent Aurora filing against Planned Parenthood/Chicago's CEO, we have filed several other libel cases whenever abortion partisans have crossed the line and made recklessly and maliciously false statements about pro-lifers. In one case we called to account the prestigious Oxford University Press for publishing barefaced lies about Joseph Scheidler--the case settled on terms that remain confidential.
The Abortion Breast Cancer Coalition--We consulted with Karen Malec, head of the ABC coalition, and her board members about their having been awarded the "Golden Boob" award by a pro-abortion group that accused them--falsely!--of misstatements in urging a scientifically validated link between abortion and breast cancer. We're also pursuing data for them from the National Cancer Institute.
Helpers of God's Precious Infants--We negotiated parade permits and dealt with police officials on behalf of this group when bishops led prayer processions from Chicago area churches to nearby abortion clinics to lead prayer there.
Defending Texas' Prenatal Protection Act for Texas Alliance for Life, Inc.--We've just filed two amicus curiae briefs this past summer in a pair of appeals before the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals for the Texas Alliance for Life Trust Fund, the principal lobbying organization that supported the 2003 enactment of that state's Prenatal Protection Act. The Act extended the protection of civil and criminal law to unborn children at every stage of gestation. Two Texas defendants found guilty of capital murder for killing unborn children attacked the statute on constitutional grounds, claiming it was inconsistent with Roe v. Wade. Our briefs, authored by Special Counsel Paul Linton, made short shrift of those claims.
Supporting Efforts to Outlaw Oregon's Euthanasia Law--Two and a half years ago we filed another amicus curiae brief in the U.S. Supreme Court in support of Congress' effort to outlaw Oregon's state law authorizing "mercy killing" or "euthanasia" on the basis that it was inconsistent with federal laws banning narcotics. Regrettably, in Gonzales v. State of Oregon, the Justices ruled that Congressional intent was insufficiently clear to support the Justice Department contention that state laws authorizing the use of drugs to kill patients must be struck down.
Pregnancy Discrimination Cases--We have advised and even filed suit for several women who have made credible, substantial claims that they have lost employment or job perquisites by virtue of their having become pregnant.
A Few Child Custody Cases--Priests for Life asked us to intervene on behalf of a mother in Brandon, Florida, whose infant was the target of a custody claim by the same father who had urged the mother to abort that child. In another case, a Cook County mother was threatened with loss of custody on account of her allegedly excessive insistence on raising the child according to the dictates of her religion.
Defending Pro-Life Signs & Monuments--We find that many municipal officials are ignorant of some very fundamental First Amendment rules relating to signs. In Homewood, Illinois, the Knights of Columbus wanted to put up a monument in front of their Catholic church to memorialize the unborn victims of abortion. The city said that the monument could be placed by a side door, where it could barely be seen, but not on Main Street in front of the church. The Knights asked us to intervene. We told the city lawyer that a commercial sign ordinance could not constitutionally be applied to a religious monument on church property. He didn't like our advice, but the monument now stands on Main Street.
The Nationwide Forty-Day Prayer Vigil--David Bereit, national coordinator of the 40 Days for Life Campaign that is currently underway, asked if we would agree to handle calls from participants around the country worried over legal issues. So far we've had calls from District of Columbia, Connecticut, Arizona, North Dakota, and Arizona, among others. First Amendment rights are in need of greater respect around the country. We need to enforce these rights or they will be lost in real life, even though they exist on paper.
Guardianship, Power of Attorney, and Other End of Life Cases--We have been called on often to advise and aid family members who believe that their loved ones are imperiled by caregivers bent on doing away with them. These are difficult cases indeed. Guardians, power holders, court-appointed guardians ad litem, and judges often hold widely varying views on end of life issues and those views often slant their fact-reporting and fact-finding. We have intervened when possible, but this isn't always easy. A horrible case in Springfield, Illinois, involves an unmarried daughter who took care of her mom into her adult years only to have her power of attorney negated and guardianship given to her out of state siblings who then had the mother transferred out of state and had the faithful daughter convicted of criminal contempt, sentenced to 14 days in the county jail, and stripped of her home and assets for having put her mom's social security checks in a joint bank account, thereby "commingling funds." Some legal reforms are in order, and we'll be recommending them in light of these hard cases.
Religious Expression (Nativity Scenes and Easter Cross) in the Public Square--Our chairman, Jennifer Neubauer, sued in federal court to win the right for a private citizen to erect a Nativity Scene on Chicago's public square--Daley Plaza, in front of the main state court building. The ACLU had just won a federal ban on the crčche that had been in City Hall for years, and it objected to the Daley Plaza crčche as "too close to the center of government" even though privately sponsored. Jennifer beat the ACLU, and every year the Chicago crčche graces Daley Plaza. This last year, however, the city vetoed showing of scenes from the movie The Nativity Story at a Christkindlmarket held in December. We stepped in, prepared a lawsuit, and won the right to mount a private, noncommercial showing of those movie scenes. Then we sought and won a city permit to mount a 19-foot wooden cross on the Plaza at Easter time, and we held an interdenominational sunrise service on Easter Sunday morning.
Private religious expression in public venues is constitutionally protected, and to the extent we have resources to do so we're prepared to aid and counsel any private citizens who want to express their religious faith in their local public squares all over the United States.
The State Constitutional Law Project--We are underwriting a systematic, comprehensive and in-depth study by our Special Counsel Paul Linton of the constitutional law relating to abortion rights in all fifty (50) states. The reason? Simple enough. If Roe v. Wade were overruled today and abortion issues returned to the states, even if every state legislature promptly enacted a statute outlawing all abortions except those needed to save the mother's life, more than half the abortions performed in the U.S. would still be legal! That is because more than half the abortions performed annually in the U.S. are performed in states whose Supreme Courts have held that abortion is protected as a constitutional right under their state constitutions. Legislatures in those states would be powerless to prohibit abortion, and their right to regulate abortion would also be doubtful.
Pro-abortion organizations have been working hard in pursuit of a national strategy to persuade state courts to recognize abortion rights under state constitutions. Our state constitutional law project has been designed to comb at that opposition strategy. Linton's research, almost half completed, will not only describe the current abortion jurisprudence in each state, but it will also examine relevant constitutional provisions, canvass case law interpreting those provisions, and formulate principled legal arguments against recognition of abortion rights under each state constitution. This project will benefit state legislators, pro-life leaders and lobbyists, lawyers, academics, and most important, the state officials including Governors and Attorneys General, who are charged by law with the duty to defend pro-life legislation but often lack the time, resources, experience, and expertise to match wits with pro-abortion forces on an even playing field. Our state constitutional law project will help to even out that playing field.
(Matt C. Abbott is a Catholic columnist with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communication, Media and Theatre from Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago, and an Associate in Applied Science degree in Business Management from Triton College in River Grove, Ill. He is the former director of public affairs for the Chicago-based Pro-Life Action League and the former executive director of the Illinois Right to Life Committee. He was a contributor to The Wanderer Catholic newspaper and had numerous letters to the editor published in major newspapers, including the New York Times, USA Today, the Wall Street Journal, the Chicago Tribune, and the Chicago Sun-Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)
Matt C. Abbott
https://www.catholic.org IL, US
Matt C. Abbott - Author, 661 869-1000
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