State of Illinois Leaves Pro-Life Efforts in Legal Limbo

State of Illinois

At the center of two pro-life legal battles in Illinois are some faces familiar to the Pro-Life Action League: League Attorney Thomas J. Brejcha, Federal Judge David Coar, who presided over the NOW v. Scheidler trial, and Attorney General Lisa Madigan, twice picketed by the League.

“Choose Life” Finally To Be Proclaimed on Illinois Highways?

In the summer of 2002, a group of Illinois pro-lifers met to plan strategy for bringing the Choose Life license plate to Illinois. Barrington resident Jim Finnegan winters in Florida where the Choose Life plate originated. He purchased the plates for his own car and envisioned the pro-life message on vehicles in his home state of Illinois. Jim contacted Russ and Jill Amerling of Ocala, FL to find out how they had successfully put the Choose Life message on Florida’s roads.

Lisa Madigan

Pro-abortion Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan is at the center of efforts to stymie pro-life legal victories in the state.

On the Amerlings’ advice, the Illinois pro-life group set up a Choose Life corporation with Virginia and the late Ed McCaskey, owners of the Chicago Bears, on the board of directors, along with Jim Finnegan, Joe and Carol Walsh of Libertyville and Richard and Sue Bergquist of Naperville. Their goal was to provide funding for adoption services in Illinois through the extra fee imposed on the specialty plate.

According to the law in Illinois the Secretary of State, Jesse White, has the authority to issue specialty license plates. But White supports abortion and was opposed to the Choose Life message even though the proceeds were to be directed to agencies that promote or facilitate adoptions. The Illinois legislature is predominantly pro-abortion and efforts to introduce a Choose Life license plate bill were smothered in hostile committees.

Pro-Life Law Center Sues State

Tom Brejcha, chief counsel of the Chicago-based Thomas More Society, Pro-Life Law Center, filed a lawsuit in federal court on behalf of the Illinois Choose Life Corporation, alleging that the Illinois Secretary of State was obligated to issue the Choose Life plate under the First Amendment since Illinois has dozens of other specialty plates that advertise and raise funds for other causes. Whether the Secretary of State likes the message is irrelevant, as Illinois has made its plates a “public forum” that must be kept open for all private speakers, except for obscenity, threats, incitement to imminent violence or fraud. Coincidentally the Choose Life case was assigned to Judge David Coar, the same judge who had ruled against Joe Scheidler and the Pro-Life Action League in NOW v. Scheidler and delayed abiding by the Supreme Court ruling that he reverse his Judgment and lift the nationwide injunction against pro-life activists.

For more than a year Judge Coar considered written motions by each side for “summary judgment.” But on January 22, 2007 news reached Tom Brejcha, then in Washington DC for the annual March for Life, that Judge Coar had ruled that the citizens of Illinois had a right to purchase the Choose Life license plate, and that Jesse White was guilty of “viewpoint discrimination” in violation of the First Amendment. But the Judge “stayed” (suspended) his order for 30 days before it would go into effect.

Pro-Abort Madigan Steps In

Attorney General Lisa Madigan then sprang into action. She asked Judge Coar to reconsider his order and extend his stay. Judge Coar refused to reconsider his ruling. But after she filed an appeal to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, the Judge extended the stay for the duration of the appeal, which could take up to a year. Meanwhile the final design for the Choose Life plate for Illinois has been submitted to the Secretary of State and people have begun asking the state when the plates will be available for purchase.

Eighteen states have approved the Choose Life license plates and dozens more are in the works. This appeal will set a key precedent and the stakes are high. Millions of dollars have been raised for adoption services wherever the Choose Life message has been proclaimed on the highways.

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Will State Ever Enforce 1995 Parental Notification Law?

As Paul Linton, special counsel to the Chicago-based Thomas More Society, Pro-Life Law Center, emphatically states, “Parents have no rights in Illinois.”

Tom Brejcha

Pro-life attornty Tom Brejcha is fighting tirelessly to ensure the voices of pro-life Illinois citizens will not be silenced by the courts.

In 1995 the Illinois State Legislature passed a parental notification bill. It was far from ideal, but considering the political make-up of Illinois, it was the best we could get at the time. Governor Jim Edgar, an abortion advocate, signed the bill into law, but it never went into effect. First, the ACLU filed suit to block the law’s enforcement. Then the Illinois Supreme Court became a stumbling block. A feature of the law required the Illinois Supreme Court to promulgate rules for a judicial bypass for those limited situations where families were dysfunctional, owing to violence or incest, or where a minor pregnant girl was deemed mature enough to make her own decision.

Incredibly, the Illinois Supreme Court’s seven Justices at that time refused to issue the new bypass rules, stating reasons that made no real sense. So the federal court, having blocked any enforcement of the law until the bypass rules were issued, made its order permanent. And as a result, pregnant teens from Indiana, Missouri, Kentucky, Wisconsin and Michigan—all of which have parental notice or consent laws—began to travel to Illinois where the abortion providers were not required to notify their parents that they were having an abortion.

But the composition of the Illinois Supreme Court changed over the last decade. Supplementing a short petition by DuPage County prosecutor Joe Birkett, the Thomas More Society filed a lengthy amicus brief with the Illinois Supreme Court, outlining reasons why the Court needed to issue rules and let the 1995 law go into effect. Finally in September 2006 Illinois Chief Justice Bob Thomas led the Court to promulgate the bypass rules. Under federal law, the Parental Notice of Abortion Act of 1995 could now go into effect.

Madigan’s Strange Appeal

The next step was for Illinois’s Attorney General Lisa Madigan to petition the U. S. District Court to lift its injunction against the law. Madigan, who supports abortion, consulted with the ACLU and Planned Parenthood officials. The ACLU wanted Madigan to declare the 1995 bill defunct and require the state to start over. Pro-lifers, who were not consulted, wanted the law to go into effect as quickly as possible. Madigan took a strange middle-of-the-road route. Instead of simply asking U. S. District Court Judge David Coar (who inherited this case from a retiring Judge) to lift the injunction, she asked him to appoint a “special master” to investigate whether, and then advise as to when, the Illinois court clerks were prepared to implement the bypass rules.

Illinois Supreme Court Responds

Judge Coar refused this bizarre request, asking a federal Judge to check whether Illinois court officials obeyed rules laid down by the Illinois Supreme Court. Meanwhile, the Thomas More Society obtained a transcript of what occurred before Judge Coar and sent it to Chief Justice Thomas. The Chief Justice promptly took matters into his own hands. In a directive which all seven Supreme Court Justices signed, they told Attorney General Madigan that what she told Judge Coar was “in error,” and ordered her to enforce the law. She then asked Judge Coar to lift the injunction. The ACLU is objecting, and we await a federal ruling.

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