Pregnancy centers warn that sanctions could violate their First Amendment rights

Image: MA Pregnancy Help Center vandalized (Image: Your Options Medical)

A group of Massachusetts-area Pregnancy Resource Centers (PRC), under attack from abortion groups like Jane’s Revenge, is reaching out to a hostile state Attorney General to demand equal protection under the law. 

The Massachusetts Family Institute (MFI) recently teamed up with the First Liberty Institute and sent a letter to the Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey on behalf of a coalition of Massachusetts-based PRCs. In the letter, the PRCs plead for help, reminding the Attorney General of her duty to protect all Massachusetts citizens. 

The public interest groups have gotten involved in the wake of a spate of attacks on local PRCs, which are part of an increasing pattern of nationwide violence against pro-life institutions since the overturning of Roe v. Wade. The letter cites a number of local attacks – some of which are federal crimes – consisting of violence, vandalism, and threats. 

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But to date help has not been forthcoming. Attorney General Healey has been signaling hostility towards pro-life institutions and targeting PRCs in particular. In July, the Attorney General threatened to seek civil sanctions against the PRCs for alleged “civil rights” violations by “attempting to interfere” with the “right” to an abortion. Around the same time, the Attorney General’s Office released a “consumer advisory” against PRCs and encouraged consumers to file complaints against PRCs with her office. 

“Each of our clients are concerned by your office’s recent actions against pregnancy resource centers along with its refusal to enforce the law to protect these centers from the wave of criminal actions taken against them,” the letter’s text says. “These are the groups you targeted with your letter: men and women, motivated by their faith to provide medical and professional counseling services and give away diapers, baby wipes, and hand-knitted baby booties to those in need. Rather than protect these faith-based organizations providing professional reproductive health services, as is the duty of your office, your letter has placed them in further jeopardy.” The letter notes that “more than one has faced violent threats and vandalism of their facilities” that have made women in need “now scared to approach these reproductive health facilities.” 

READ: Pro-life words treated like crimes while physical attacks on pregnancy centers go unpunished

The PRC coalition’s letter states the Attorney General is engaged in viewpoint discrimination, and cites NIFLA v. Becerra, a 2018 decision which specifically protects the speech of PRCs and prohibits the government from targeting PRCs because of their viewpoints. Additionally, because all of the PRCs in question are run by religious groups, and volunteers are operating them expressly as a way of living out their faith, the AG could also be violating their First Amendment rights. The letter cites no fewer than 15 court decisions supporting their claim that the AG is targeting non-preferred speech. 

Attorney General Healey, who is currently the Democratic nominee for governor, attempted to justify her approach as protecting access to abortion. “While crisis pregnancy centers claim to offer reproductive healthcare services, their goal is to prevent people from accessing abortion and contraception,” Healey wrote, according to WBUR. “In Massachusetts, you have the right to a safe and legal abortion. We want to ensure that patients can protect themselves from deceptive and coercive tactics when seeking the care they need.” 

In the wake of the Supreme Court’s leaked opinion and eventual overturning of Roe v. Wade, attacks against pro-life PRCs have risen to alarming levels. As Live Action News reported, a Religious Freedom Institute analysis concluded that attacks against pro-life institutions like PRCs are likely to continue due to a permissive environment created by several adverse factors, including a passive approach to investigating and deterring such crimes taken by state and local law enforcement officials, as well as the failure of some state and local office holders to condemn these crimes.

Founded in 1991, the MFI is a not-for-profit organization that describes its mission as “non-partisan public policy organization dedicated to strengthening families in Massachusetts,” including advocating for “preserving life from conception to natural death.” The First Liberty Institute describes itself as the “largest legal organization in the nation dedicated exclusively to defending religious liberty for all Americans.”

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