News Law and Policy

Judge Extends Order Blocking Wisconsin Admitting Privileges Law

Jessica Mason Pieklo

An order blocking enforcement of Wisconsin's latest anti-abortion law will remain in place while the court considers blocking it permanently.

On Wednesday, a federal judge extended a temporary restraining order that bars enforcement of a state law requiring hospital admitting privileges for any physician who performs abortions at clinics in the state. The law, which was signed by Republican Gov. Scott Walker on July 5, took effect on July 8 but was immediately blocked after Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union sued to challenge the constitutionality of the law.

In addition to extending the temporary restraining order, U.S. District Judge William Conley said he would rule on a longer-term injunction within two weeks. Conley also scheduled the case for trial beginning November 25. Should Conley grant the preliminary injunction, that injunction would remain in effect pending the outcome of the November trial.

News Law and Policy

Judge Blocks Mississippi ‘Religious Freedom’ Law, Calling it Discriminatory

Nicole Knight Shine

"But HB 1523 does not honor that tradition of religion freedom, nor does it respect the equal dignity of all of Mississippi’s citizens. It must be enjoined," U.S. District Judge Carlton W. Reeves wrote.

A U.S. District Judge temporarily blocked a sweeping and controversial Mississippi “religious freedom” law late Thursday, calling the legislation “arbitrary discrimination against lesbian, gay, transgender, and unmarried persons.”

“The State has put its thumb on the scale to favor some religious beliefs over others,” U.S. District Judge Carlton W. Reeves wrote in a 60-page decision issued hours before HB 1523 was set to go into effect.

Reeves ruled that the bill violated the First and 14th Amendments by allowing individuals, religious organizations, and some government employees with “sincerely held religious beliefs” to deny services to, as Reeves wrote, “lesbian, gay, transgender, and unmarried persons,” potentially gutting certain privileges and legal protections—such as those stemming from the 2015 Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage.

The bill was authored by Mississippi House Speaker Philip Gunn (R-Hinds), who had called the high court’s legalization of marriage equality “in direct conflict with God’s design for marriage as set forth in the Bible,” as the Washington Post reported.

“Religious freedom was one of the building blocks of this great nation, and after the nation was torn apart, the guarantee of equal protection under law was used to stitch it back together,” Reeves wrote in his decision.”But HB 1523 does not honor that tradition of religion freedom, nor does it respect the equal dignity of all of Mississippi’s citizens. It must be enjoined.”

The legislation, known as the Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act, was signed into law by Republican Gov. Phil Bryant in April, after clearing the Republican-controlled House and Senate.

The measure enshrined three religiously held tenets: that gender is determined at birth, that marriage is between a man and a woman, and that sex is “properly reserved” for heterosexual marriage. It determined that housing, employment, and adoption decisions could be made based on those religious beliefs.

A swift national and state-level outcry followed the passage of HB 1523, with 80 CEOs, among others, calling for its repeal as “bad for our employees and bad for business,” according to the court documents. The law had been challenged in Barber v. Bryant and Campaign for Southern Equality v. Bryant.

The state has not said whether it will appeal Reeves’ ruling. If the state does not appeal, the temporary order becomes permanent after another hearing.

“I am grateful that the court has blocked this divisive law,” said Rev. Susan Hrostowski, an Episcopal priest and a plaintiff in the Campaign for Southern Equality case. “As a member of the LGBT community and as minister of the Gospel, I am thankful that justice prevailed.”

The injunction Thursday follows a ruling earlier this week by Reeves, a 2010 Obama appointee, which blocked a provision in HB 1523 allowing circuit clerks to deny marriage licenses to same-sex couples, as the Washington Post reported. Twenty months prior, Reeves had struck down the state’s statutory and constitutional bans on same-sex marriage.

News Violence

Report: 2015 Brought Unprecedented Violence, Threats Against Abortion Providers

Imani Gandy

The statistics for 2015 “reflect a dramatic increase in hate speech and internet harassment, death threats, attempted murder, and murder, which coincided with the release of heavily-edited, misleading, and inflammatory videos beginning in July.”

National Abortion Federation (NAF) officials for the past nine months have maintained that the Center for Medical Progress (CMP), an anti-choice front group behind a smear campaign against Planned Parenthood involving surreptitiously recorded videos, sparked an overwhelming uptick in violence against abortion providers.

Now they have statistics to back up that assertion.

NAF has compiled statistics on incidents of violence and disruption against abortion providers for almost 40 years, according to a press release the organization issued Tuesday.

The statistics for 2015 “reflect a dramatic increase in hate speech and internet harassment, death threats, attempted murder, and murder, which coincided with the release of heavily-edited, misleading, and inflammatory videos beginning in July.”

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Since 1977, there have been 11 murders, 26 attempted murders, 42 bombings, 185 arsons, and thousands more incidents of criminal behavior directed at abortion providers, according to NAF’s press release.

Three of those 11 killings happened in November 2015, when Robert Lewis Dear Jr. allegedly laid siege on a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs. That clinic is operated by Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, where Dr. Savita Ginde, one of the providers featured in CMP’s attack videos, is medical director. Ginde found herself the subject of protests at her home, where flyers were passed around that read “Savita Ginde murders children at Planned Parenthood with your consent.”

There were 94 threats of direct harm in 2015 as compared to only one such threat in 2014. After the videos were released, one NAF member received a voicemail that said someone planned to “pull a Columbine, and wipe everyone out.” An unknown male called a hospital switchboard in North Carolina and said “We will kill all [hospital] abortion doctors.”

The threats of violence were so overwhelming that NAF hired a security firm to monitor online threats. The security firm began its work in mid-November, four months after the CMP smear videos were first released. The security firm identified more than 25,000 incidents of online threats in six weeks.

NAF officials believe that if they had begun the “enhanced” online tracking immediately after the videos were released, the number of online threats would eclipse 100,000.

There has also been a sharp rise in clinic violence. NAF, through its online monitoring work, identified an anti-choice radical who advocated online for setting clinics on fire: “One person setting fire to an abortion clinic will not do anything but thousands setting fire to an abortion clinic will speak volumes. It is not violent to set a building on fire… if thousands rallied together to set each murder house on fire, we would see the end of abortion.”

Within three months of that post, according to NAF’s report, clinics in Washington, Louisiana, California, and Illinois were victims of arson. A clinic in New Hampshire was damaged when someone broke into the clinic and used a hatchet to destroy equipment, exam rooms, computers, phones, and plumbing fixtures, which flooded the clinic.

The videos are the lynchpin of the Human Capital Project, a 30-month long sting operation run by CMP and David Daleiden, an anti-choice activist, who created fake corporations and used false identities in order to infiltrate NAF meetings to which he otherwise would not have had access. NAF granted him access to these meetings only because he signed confidentiality agreements, which barred him from sharing information gleaned from the meetings.

Nevertheless, Daleiden surreptitiously recorded hundreds of hours of video at these private NAF meetings in order to prove his assertion that Planned Parenthood is in the grisly business of selling black market “baby parts.”

Authorities on Tuesday searched Daleiden’s Orange Country, California apartment in connection with CMP’s ongoing smear campaign against Planned Parenthood. Representatives from California Attorney General Kamala Harris’ office declined to comment on the search.

Daleiden in July released the first batch of his surreptitiously collected footage, which he edited to suggest that Planned Parenthood was raking in profits from the sale of fetal tissue.

Federal law prohibits the sale or purchase of fetal tissue, but permits reimbursement for costs associated with providing fetal tissue for medical research. At the time the video footage was recorded and released, Planned Parenthood accepted reimbursement for costs—as permitted by law.

Almost immediately after CMP began releasing the videos, NAF filed a lawsuit in federal court alleging conspiracy, racketeering, and breach of contract, among other claims, and sought a restraining order blocking Daleiden from releasing more footage recorded at NAF meetings. NAF claimed that permitting Daleiden to release more videos would harm its members, who navigate harassment and threats as a part of their daily lives.

Daleiden countered, alleging that he is an investigative journalist using common techniques to uncover what he saw as wrongdoing on the part of Planned Parenthood and that barring him from releasing further videos was a violation of his First Amendment right to free speech. NAF argued that he had waived his First Amendment rights when he signed confidentiality agreements promising not to reveal to the public any information he gained from the NAF meetings.

United States District Court Judge William Orrick sided with NAF.

On July 31, 2015, he blocked CMP from releasing additional footage because “the subjects of videos that defendants had released in the previous two weeks had become victims of death threats and severe harassment, and in light of the well-documented history of violence against abortion providers.”

Nearly seven months later, Orrick converted that temporary restraining order (TRO) into a preliminary injunction.

“Critical to my decision … [is that] after the release of defendants’ first set of Human Capital Project videos and related information in July 2015, there has been a documented, dramatic increase in the volume and extent of threats to and harassment of NAF and its members,” Orrick wrote.

CMP and Daleiden have tried to distance themselves from what they say are merely internet threats by third parties. They disclaim any involvement in or support for the rash of violence and threats that have resulted from the Human Capital Project.