Interpretation of New Illinois Law Could Stifle Grassroots Advocacy Groups

For Immediate Release
Contact:
Amber Dawe, TC Public Relations, 312-422-1333, [email protected]

Pro-Life Action League on the Brink of Financial Ruin
(Chicago, Ill.) – Pro-life advocates say a new law intended to protect small, grassroots organizations is doing just the opposite.

Today in Kane County Circuit Court, members of the Chicago-based Pro-Life Action League were shocked when they heard Planned Parenthood of Illinois is demanding $317,322 in legal fees related to a libel lawsuit filed against it by the League and its communication director, Eric Scheidler. Planned Parenthood says it is entitled to recover legal fees for parts of the libel lawsuit a judge dismissed under Illinois’ new Citizen Participation Act.

“As if it weren’t enough for Planned Parenthood to smear our good name with lies in letters to the Aurora City Council and ads in west suburban newspapers, now they want to bankrupt us and shut us down for daring to challenge their lies and deception,” said Scheidler.

According to its wording, the Act was intended to protect individuals’ and small organizations’ “constitutional rights to…participate in and communicate with government,” and guard against the threat of frivolous and costly lawsuits that might deter them from doing so.

In this case, the billion-dollar enterprise, Planned Parenthood, is using the law to justify its defamatory statements against Scheidler and the Pro-Life Action League, a small non-profit that operates on an annual budget of $800,000, compared to Planned Parenthood/Chicago Area’s budget of more than $15 million.

The Act was signed into law on August 28, 2007, just a week before Planned Parenthood accused pro-life advocates of fomenting violence in local newspaper ads and in a letter to the Aurora City Council. Judge Judith Brawka interpreted it and the letter to City Council as being protected because the ad contained a line urging readers to call their local alderman.

“Under this interpretation, the Citizen Participation Act has been used not to protect, but to penalize citizen participation—to the tune of $317,000,” said Tom Brejcha, Scheidler’s attorney and chief counsel for Thomas More Society/Pro-Life Law Center. “The enormity of Planned Parenthood’s fee demand underscores the chilling effects on First-Amendment rights that will inevitably follow the ruling in this case.”

“They’re turning the Citizen Participation Act completely upside-down,” Scheidler said. “Powerful Planned Parenthood is trying to intimidate me into dropping my libel case under threat of financial ruin for my small non-profit organization and my family—but it won’t work.”

About Pro-Life Action League

Pro-Life Action League was founded by Joseph M. Scheidler in 1980 with the aim of saving unborn children through non-violent direct action. Through prayer vigils outside abortion facilities and sidewalk counseling, the League reaches out to abortion-bound women and couples with abortion alternatives, confidential counseling and access to pregnancy resources. Since July 2007, the League has been at the center of the controversy surrounding Planned Parenthood’s flagship abortion facility in Aurora, Ill., dubbed, “Ground Zero” of the abortion battle by abortion supporters and opponents alike. The League has closed eight abortion clinics in Chicago alone and nearly a hundred across the country.

The Pro-Life Action League is a nonprofit organization, supported solely by private donations. For more information, visit www.prolifeaction.org.

About Thomas More Society, Pro-Life Law Center

Founded in 1997, the Thomas More Society, Pro-Life Law Center, is a not-for-profit, public-interest law firm based in Chicago and 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.

Under the leadership of President and Chief Counsel Tom Brejcha, the Society champions the rights of pro-life activists. It has taken on groups such as Planned Parenthood, American Civil Liberties Union, National Organization for Women, National Abortion Rights Action League Pro-Choice America, National Abortion Federation and the Center for Reproductive Rights.

The Thomas More Society is a nonprofit organization, supported solely by private donations. For more information, visit www.thomasmoresociety.org.

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Copies of the original newspaper ad, the libel lawsuit, Planned Parenthood’s motion to dismiss Judge’s decision and fee petition available upon request.

Eric Scheidler and his attorneys are available for interview.

Contacts for the media:

Eric Scheidler, Pro-Life Action League: (630) 896-1200, (773) 251-8792 (cell)

Tom Brejcha, Thomas More Society: (312) 782-1680, (312) 590-3408 (cell)

Amber Dawe, TC Public Relations: (312) 422-1333

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