[This article was printed in Lifeline Vol. XXI, No. 1 (Spring 2012) Read in PDF.]
[Thomas Brejcha of the Thomas More Society reports firsthand on the status of the various lawsuits in Aurora, Illinois. Life Legal Defense Foundation is proud to partner with Tom and the TMS on these legal cases.]
Three separate cases arose out of the furor surrounding the opening in 2007 of what was then America’s biggest abortion clinic, with 12 or 13 surgical recovery rooms a furor that led Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood, to call Aurora, Illinois, a large suburb west of Chicago “Ground Zero” in the nation’s “war” over abortion rights.
After five years, our lawsuit vs. the City of Aurora for violation of pro-lifers’ First Amendment rights has been settled by filing of a court-enforceable settlement agreement, which assures that the city will observe and protect the pro-lifers’ rights of free speech and free assembly outside Planned Parenthood’s five-year-old mega-clinic in Aurora. Also, the city is in the process of revising and redrafting several ordinances which we had challenged on constitutional grounds in federal court here.
Our two other cases, addressing zoning and libel issues, remain pending and hotly contested in the circuit courts, respectively, of DuPage and Kane Counties in west and far west suburban metro Chicago.
After five years, the zoning case is still very much at issue, with the fate of the mega-clinic hanging in the balance. After pro-lifers discovered that the clinic had been constructed on a site whose zoning did not allow for non-profit land uses under the Aurora Zoning Code, and about which adjoining landowners were not properly notified, the pro-lifers along with local landowners sued to enjoin continued operation of the facility as a non-conforming land use. Planned Parenthood removed the case to federal court, where after lengthy proceedings the case was sent back to state court where no less than five different Circuit Judges have presided over the case, having either recused themselves, or having heard arguments and rendered non-dispositive, temporary rulings on a series of motions to strike, motions to dismiss, and other tactical moves which have been filed ad nauseam by both Planned Parenthood and Aurora attorneys. The latest clash over legal technicalities is scheduled for hearing later this month, in March, 2012, before the first Judge to whom the case had been assigned years ago, who now has been reassigned to the case. Despite all these delays, the legal issues are still as powerful as ever, and we expect that sooner rather than later Planned Parenthood will have to face the music and the court will pass judgment on the patent illegality of its land use.
Finally, the libel case filed by Eric Scheidler and the Pro-Life Action League against Planned Parenthood, burns anew with white hot intensity. Planned Parenthood of Illinois’ former head, Steven Trombley, had smeared the leaders of the Aurora clinic protests as “violent criminals,” even daring to cite the RICO jury verdict handed down in 1998 in NOW v. Scheidler against the League and Eric’s fathera verdict that was overturned by a decisive, bipartisan 8-1 majority in the U.S. Supreme Courtagainst them, omitting any mention of the verdict’s reversal by the high Court, even though that reversal was affirmed again when the Justices heard a third appeal in that case and ruled anew for the League and Joe Scheidler, this time by a unanimous 8-0 count. Just this year, a couple of months ago the Illinois Supreme Court had rebuffed an interpretation of Illinois’ new so-called SLAPP law (an acronym standing for “Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation”) that Planned Parenthood had used to counterclaim against Eric and the League, threatening them with bankruptcy for having to pay all of Planned Parenthood’s attorneys’ fees (nearly $500,000). Planned Parenthood had prevailed on a lower court to rule that, under the new SLAPP law, if it was trying to obtain government relief when it allegedly libeled the pro-lifers, then it was immune from suit for libel and the libel plaintiffsEric and the League would have to pay all its fees, which its lawyers inflated to an extreme. In other words, the abortionists claimed that Illinois law not only protected vicious deliberate lies but would reward the liars with a monetary windfall if called to account in court for their lies! Incredibly, this cynical view of the new law gained traction in many lower courts in Illinois before the Illinois Supreme Court roundly rejected it. SLAPP suits, according to our high Court’s ruling, are only those brought by persons whose real interest is only to harass their opponents, not to secure judicial relief to which they are entitled under the law. So, the libel case brought by Eric and the League has been given new life. While it had been regarded as a ticket to bankruptcy court, given the adverse interpretation of the SLAPP law, now it seems once again to afford a path to justice, by which Eric and the Pro-Life Action League can win legal redress for the vicious lies and libels by which Planned Parenthood had smeared them five years ago.
[Thomas Brejcha is president and chief counsel to Chicago-based Thomas More Society, a not-for-profit, national public interest law firm that exists to restore respect in law for life, marriage, and religious liberty.]