News Abortion

Pro-Life Wisconsin Renews ‘Personhood’ Effort

Robin Marty

With several abortion restrictions on hold, anti-choice activists are using their down time to prepare for a new push to grant legal rights to fertilized eggs via a "personhood" measure.

AB 227, a Wisconsin forced ultrasound bill that would also require abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at a local hospital, is on hold while parties await a hearing to argue its constitutionality. A number of other restrictions that were proposed in the Wisconsin legislature did not pass before recess and will not return until at least September. But anti-choice activists in the state aren’t taking a vacation, even if the politicians are. Instead, they are using their down time to prepare for a new push to grant legal rights to fertilized eggs via a “personhood” measure.

According to Pro-Life Wisconsin, the state’s most extreme anti-choice action group, state Rep. Andre Jacque (R-Green Bay) is gathering legislative sponsors to assist him in introducing a “personhood” bill once the legislature returns. Rep. Jacque was behind a number of anti-choice bills that were introduced this year, including one that would mandate how “fetal remains” are disposed of, one to ban insurance coverage of abortions for state employees, and another to provide taxpayer funds to deceptive crisis pregnancy centers.

Rep. Jacque announced in April his intention to bring a “personhood” bill to the floor this session. But although a number of restrictions were introduced, “personhood” wasn’t among them. Now, Pro-Life Wisconsin is asking its supporters to contact their representatives, urging them to sign on to Jacque’s bill as co-sponsors.

Pro-Life Wisconsin also lent its technical assistance to the campaign by creating a new “personhood” website. The site reads:

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The amendment extends the inalienable right to life already found in the Wisconsin Constitution to all preborn children from the beginning of their lives. It seeks to end abortion in Wisconsin, not to regulate or restrict it.  It seeks to end all violence toward preborn children in Wisconsin – surgical, chemical, experimental, etc. – at all stages of development.

Although the site doesn’t specifically say it will ban hormonal contraception or intrauterine devices (IUDs), it does cite Personhood USA in its frequently asked question” section; in response to a question about whether birth control will be banned under “personhood,” the group says a “personhood” law wouldn’t ban all contraception—”only birth control devices that kill an unborn human being.” However, Pro-Life Wisconsin believes that hormonal birth control does exactly that.

So far no organized “personhood” effort has resulted in a law. Wisconsin may be no different, as the amendment is being opposed not just by reproductive rights advocates but by anti-choice groups, too. Leading the charge is Wisconsin Right to Life, which published its own website and video outlining the reasons why a “personhood amendment strategy is not necessary, risky—and just plain wrong for Wisconsin.” In the video, Sue Armacost, president of Wisconsin Right to Life, says that a “personhood” amendment could undermine the state’s existing abortion ban. Also of concern is the amount of money it would cost not only to gather the public support necessary to pass the amendment, but to defend it in court when it is inevitably challenged.

“Honestly, sometimes an idea is just too good to be true,” concludes Armacost, who says the effort would “cause more harm than good.”

Whether the opposition of their own allies remains enough to persuade Pro-Life Wisconsin and Rep. Jacque not to continue remains to be seen, likely until the legislature meets again in September.

News Law and Policy

Pastors Fight Illinois’ Ban on ‘Gay Conversion Therapy’

Imani Gandy

Illinois is one of a handful of states that ban so-called gay conversion therapy. Lawmakers in four states—California, Oregon, Vermont, and New Jersey—along with Washington, D.C. have passed such bans.

A group of pastors filed a lawsuit last week arguing an Illinois law that bans mental health providers from engaging in so-called gay conversion therapy unconstitutionally infringes on rights to free speech and freedom of religion.

The Illinois legislature passed the Youth Mental Health Protection Act, which went into effect on January 1. The measure bans mental health providers from engaging in sexual orientation change efforts or so-called conversion therapy with a minor.

The pastors in their lawsuit argue the enactment of the law means they are “deprived of the right to further minister to those who seek their help.”

While the pastors do not qualify as mental health providers since they are neither licensed counselors nor social workers, the pastors allege that they may be liable for consumer fraud under Section 25 of the law, which states that “no person or entity” may advertise or otherwise offer “conversion therapy” services “in a manner that represents homosexuality as a mental disease, disorder, or illness.”

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The pastors’ lawsuit seeks an order from a federal court in Illinois exempting pastoral counseling from the law. The pastors believe that “the law should not apply to pastoral counseling which informs counselees that homosexuality conduct is a sin and disorder from God’s plan for humanity,” according to a press release issued by the pastors’ attorneys.

Illinois is one of a handful of states that ban gay “conversion therapy.” Lawmakers in four states—California, Oregon, Vermont, and New Jersey—along with Washington, D.C. have passed such bans. None have been struck down as unconstitutional. The Supreme Court this year declined to take up a case challenging New Jersey’s “gay conversion therapy” ban on First Amendment grounds.

The pastors say the Illinois law is different. The complaint alleges that the Illinois statute is broader than those like it in other states because the prohibitions in the law is not limited to licensed counselors, but also apply to “any person or entity in the conduct of any trade or commerce,” which they claim affects clergy.

The pastors allege that the law is not limited to counseling minors but “prohibits offering such counseling services to any person, regardless of age.”

Aside from demanding protection for their own rights, the group of pastors asked the court for an order “protecting the rights of counselees in their congregations and others to receive pastoral counseling and teaching on the matters of homosexuality.”

“We are most concerned about young people who are seeking the right to choose their own identity,” the pastors’ attorney, John W. Mauck, said in a statement.

“This is an essential human right. However, this law undermines the dignity and integrity of those who choose a different path for their lives than politicians and activists prefer,” he continued.

“Gay conversion therapy” bans have gained traction after Leelah Alcorn, a transgender teenager, committed suicide following her experience with so-called conversion therapy.

Before taking her own life, Alcorn posted on Reddit that her parents had refused her request to transition to a woman.

“The[y] would only let me see biased Christian therapists, who instead of listening to my feelings would try to change me into a straight male who loved God, and I would cry after every session because I felt like it was hopeless and there was no way I would ever become a girl,” she wrote of her experience with conversion therapy.

The American Psychological Association, along with a coalition of health advocacy groups including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Counseling Association, and the National Association of Social Workers, have condemned “gay conversion therapy” as potentially harmful to young people “because they present the view that the sexual orientation of lesbian, gay and bisexual youth is a mental illness or disorder, and they often frame the inability to change one’s sexual orientation as a personal and moral failure.”

The White House in 2015 took a stance against so-called conversion therapy for LGBTQ youth.

Attorneys for the State of Illinois have not yet responded to the pastors’ lawsuit.

News Law and Policy

Anti-Choice Group: End Clinic ‘Bubble Zones’ for Chicago Abortion Patients

Michelle D. Anderson

Chicago officials in October 2009 passed the "bubble zone" ordinance with nearly two-thirds of the city aldermen in support.

An anti-choice group has announced plans to file a lawsuit and launch a public protest over Chicago’s nearly seven-year-old “bubble zone” ordinance for patients seeking care at local abortion clinics.

The Pro-Life Action League, an anti-choice group based in Chicago, announced on its website that its lawyers at the Thomas More Society would file the lawsuit this week.

City officials in October 2009 passed the ordinance with nearly two-thirds of the city aldermen in support. The law makes it illegal to come within eight feet of someone walking toward an abortion clinic once that person is within 50 feet of the entrance, if the person did not give their consent.

Those found violating the ordinance could be fined up to $500.

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Harassment of people seeking abortion care has been well documented. A 2013 survey from the National Abortion Federation found that 92 percent of providers had a patient entering their facility express personal safety concerns.

The ordinance targets people seeking to pass a leaflet or handbill or engaging in “oral protest, education, or counseling with such other person in the public way.” The regulation bans the use of force, threat of force and physical obstruction to intentionally injure, intimidate or interfere any person entering or leaving any hospital, medical clinic or health-care facility.

The Pro-Life Action League lamented on its website that the law makes it difficult for anti-choice sidewalk counselors “to reach abortion-bound mothers.” The group suggested that lawmakers created the ordinance to create confusion and that police have repeatedly violated counselors’ First Amendment rights.

“Chicago police have been misapplying it from Day One, and it’s caused endless problems for our faithful sidewalk counselors,” the group said.

The League said it would protest and hold a press conference outside of the Planned Parenthood clinic in the city’s Old Town neighborhood.

Julie Lynn, a Planned Parenthood of Illinois spokesperson, told Rewire in an email that the health-care provider is preparing for the protest.

“We plan to have volunteer escorts at the health center to make sure all patients have safe access to the entrance,” Lynn said.

The anti-choice group has suggested that its lawsuit would be successful because of a 2014 U.S. Supreme Court decision that ruled a similar law in Massachusetts unconstitutional.

Pam Sutherland, vice president of public policy and education for Planned Parenthood of Illinois, told the Chicago Tribune back then that the health-care provider expected the city’s bubble zone to be challenged following the 2014 decision.

But in an effort to avoid legal challenges, Chicago city officials had based its bubble zone law on a Colorado law that created an eight-foot no-approach zone within 100 feet of all health-care facilities, according to the Tribune. Sidewalk counselor Leila Hill and others challenged that Colorado law, but the U.S. Supreme Court upheld it in 2000.

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