Wednesday, August 20, 2008

In Court Friday

My co-worker Eric Scheidler and one of our attorneys, Peter Breen, just issued this press release:

Planned Parenthood Plays Dirty with Legal Battle Against Aurora Pro-Life Citizens

Billion-Dollar Abortion Giant Abuses Law, Verdict Could Have Major Implications for Political Action Groups

AURORA, Ill., Aug. 20 /Christian Newswire/ -- Planned Parenthood of Illinois is filing a motion in Kane County Circuit Court, alleging a small group of pro-life citizens is trying to squelch its right to free speech. Planned Parenthood is filing the motion based on an Anti-SLAPP law that originally was intended to protect small organizations or citizens against large corporations. On August 22, Judge Judith Brawka will decide on the motion put forward by Planned Parenthood. If the judge rules in favor of Planned Parenthood, it could open the door for other large corporations around the country to use Anti-SLAPP laws to silence any political action group that speaks out against corruption.

Eric Scheidler, plaintiff and Communications Director, Pro-Life Action League, and
Peter Breen of the Thomas More Society, attorney for the plaintiffs

Available for media interviews after Kane County Circuit Court hearing

Friday, August 22, immediately following hearing, which begins at 1 p.m.

Kane County Circuit Court, 100 Third St., Geneva, Ill., Courtroom 350

SLAPP, which stands for "Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation," is a lawsuit or a threat of lawsuit that is intended to intimidate and silence critics by burdening them with the cost of a legal defense until they abandon their criticism or opposition. Many states have enacted anti-SLAPP laws in order to protect small grassroots organizations from having their First Amendment rights trampled by large corporations. In Illinois, the Anti-SLAPP law is called the Citizen Participation Act and was enacted in August 2007.

"The billion-dollar Goliath is trying to misuse a law intended to protect David," says Eric Scheidler, lawsuit plaintiff and communications director for the Pro-Life Action League. "If this motion stands, Planned Parenthood would be getting away with labeling peaceful citizens as domestic terrorists. It would give them a license to lie."

The libel lawsuit against Planned Parenthood of Illinois and Director Steve Trombley was filed on October 1, 2007, in response to a letter by Trombley to the mayor and city council of Aurora, Ill., stating that local citizens who opposed the opening of their Aurora facility had "a well-documented history of advocating violence against both persons and property as well as other related criminal activity." These claims were repeated in a full-page ad in The Aurora Beacon News and Planned Parenthood press releases.

The suit filed by the Aurora residents who protested the clinic said the ad against them was maliciously false and libelous. In the anti-SLAPP motion, Planned Parenthood (whose affiliates nationwide earned more than $1 billion last year) is claiming that the small group of local citizens is trying to intimidate the corporation into backing down from its claims in the ad.

"Planned Parenthood's interpretation of this act is a 'SLAPP' in the face of the First Amendment in the United States," says Peter Breen, attorney for the Thomas More Society of Chicago, which filed the original libel suit. "This law is meant to protect the little guy who speaks out against big business wrongs and political corruption. If Planned Parenthood is able to twist it to its means, it would set a precedent that could be used by corporations to slander into silence anyone who opposes them."

The aforementioned full-page ad—which includes a picture of a bombed abortion clinic and the words "Joe Scheidler and his Pro-Life Action League have a well-documented history of advocating violence against both persons and property, as well as other related criminal activity"—can be seen here [PDF].

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