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crisis pregnancy centers

Alicia Womer is manager of Empower Life Center, a crisis pregnancy center in Peoria, Illinois.

Mawa Iqbal

Illinois agrees to stop enforcing a controversial new law cracking down on crisis pregnancy centers

In a rare win for the anti-abortion rights movement in Illinois, the state attorney general’s office has entered into an agreement to permanently prohibit enforcement of a controversial new law designed to crack down on so-called crisis pregnancy centers.

This comes after a federal court said the state could not enforce the law, which aimed to rein in what critics say are deceptive practices by crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs.)

CPCs are typically Christian-based, nonprofit clinics that offer services like ultrasound screenings, STI and pregnancy testing. CPCs are typically not medically licensed with the state and don’t perform or refer abortions. Sometimes people seeking abortion care think CPCs will offer those services based on the name or website, according to abortion rights groups.

Gov. JB Pritzker signed the bill in July that bars CPCs from using deception or misinformation to steer patients away from getting abortion care. But within an hour, the conservative Thomas More Society – joined by several other anti-abortion rights groups – filed a federal lawsuit arguing the law violated free speech. U.S. District Judge Iain Johnston in August issued a preliminary injunction temporarily halting enforcement of the law. On Tuesday, the judge had yet to sign an agreement between the plaintiffs and Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul that says the state cannot enforce the law.

“We had confidence, certainly more confidence in our legal position,” said Peter Breen, lead attorney with the Thomas More Society. Still, he said they “did not think that the state would agree. We thought we were going to have to spend a year or two in extensive discovery.”

Breen said the plaintiffs’ main issue with the law was that it was too vague, and opened the door for CPCs to face legal penalties for having anti-abortion views based on religious beliefs.

“Hopefully this will put a stop to the idea of trying to silence your opponents,” Breen said.

But Alicia Hurtado of the Chicago Abortion Fund said pregnant people regularly call their helpline to complain about CPCs, saying they lie, shame and mislead them when they are looking for abortion care.

Hurtado said their work is more important than ever. “This year alone, our support requests on our helpline increased by 92%. And we can really see that as a direct impact of abortion bans and restrictions across the country.”

A WBEZ analysis shows that crisis pregnancy centers outnumber abortion providers in Illinois by a nearly three-to-one ratio. The analysis shows there are 42 Illinois counties with crisis pregnancy centers and no abortion providers. Reproductive health experts say this points to a lack of comprehensive, reproductive care across the state.

In a statement, Raoul said despite the order preventing the enforcement of the new law regarding CPCs, his office will continue to advocate for expanding access to reproductive care.

“Patients in Illinois can be assured that as states continue to enact draconian restrictions on access to reproductive health care, I will not waver in my efforts to ensure that Illinois remains an oasis of reproductive freedom in the middle of our nation,” his statement said.

He added the order does not alter Illinois’ existing consumer fraud laws, and that people can still bring legal action against a center for deceptive practices.

Eric Scheidler of the Pro-Life Action League, however, is celebrating the order. He said many women greatly benefit from CPCs.

“They want to help women who are exploring their options,” Scheidler said. “There’s emotional support, there’s financial help, there’s medical help. And why would anyone want to stop that?”

Mawa Iqbal covers Illinois state government and politics for WBEZ. Follow her at @mawa_iqbal.

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