The anti-choice activist group Created Equal can continue disseminating graphic material as part of a campaign to pressure an Illinois-based medical waste company to sever its business relationship with Planned Parenthood, a circuit court judge ruled Monday.
Late last month, Stericycle and its CEO, Charles Alutto, sued Created Equal’s political action committee, its executive director, and 100 unnamed activists to cease activities targeting Stericycle’s CEO and its board members. Created Equal in February announced “Project Weak Link,” so named because its goal is to break what the group perceives to be a weak link in Planned Parenthood’s operations: how the organization disposes of fetal tissue.
Created Equal’s Project Weak Link efforts have partly consisted of displaying a mobile billboard and distributing postcards that liken Stericycle executives to “child killers” to homes in Lake Forest and nearby Lincolnshire, as noted in Stericycle’s March 31 complaint.
The complaint includes a sample and description of one of these postcards. It features images of Alutto and some of Stericycle’s board members, spliced next to graphic images of what is described as a “5 month aborted baby” and the words “Stericycle enables killing children.”
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The cards direct recipients to one of Created Equal’s websites dedicated to this campaign, titled “Killers Among Us.”
Created Equal posted Alutto’s home address on its Facebook page and sent the CEO about 500 emails and 300 voicemails demanding Stericycle end its business relationship with Planned Parenthood, plaintiffs allege.
The complaint also states that “[d]efendants unlawfully invaded Mr. Alutto’s property to deliver” one of their postcards.
Stericycle and Alutto claim these actions are “unlawful” and “will cause irreparable harm to Plaintiffs,” predicting that reputational harm could come in the form of loss of future business and customer loyalty. They argue that the anti-choice activists’ actions amount to a nuisance and an invasion of privacy and asked the court to grant a temporary restraining order to prohibit the activists from contacting or disseminating information about Stericycle employees and board members that cast them in false light.
Judge Margaret Marcouiller, of the 19th Judicial Circuit Court in Lake County, Illinois, denied the plaintiffs’ request for a temporary restraining order.
The Thomas More Society, a conservative legal nonprofit in Chicago representing the defendants, announced in a press release that it will seek to have the lawsuit dismissed.
“This is a victory for free speech,” said Peter Breen, the firm’s special counsel, in the press release. “When multinational companies like Stericycle engage in objectionable practices, citizens have a right to express their displeasure, deliver bad reviews, or ask others to speak out against the business. Abortion industry partners like Stericycle are not exempt from free speech and the First Amendment.”
Attorneys for Sidley Austin LLP, which is representing Stericycle and Alutto, did not respond to Rewire’s requests for comment.
The Thomas More Society is also representing David Daleiden and his group, known as the Center for Medical Progress (CMP), in lawsuits filed by the National Abortion Federation (NAF) and Planned Parenthood over the deceptively edited videos CMP published to attack Planned Parenthood and its abortion care providers.
Created Equal members launched Project Weak Link after viewing some of CMP’s secretly recorded video footage showing abortion providers at a NAF conference discussing difficulties with the disposal of fetal tissue, according to a press release published by Created Equal Executive Director Mark Harrington on Monday.
In addition to decrying Created Equal’s “campaign of harassment, intimidation, and invasion of privacy,” Stericycle objects to the organization’s primary accusation: that it participates in Planned Parenthood’s abortion care services. In the complaint, plaintiffs say that Stericycle has a “lawful business relationship with Planned Parenthood” but affirm plaintiffs “take no part whatsoever in any abortions.”
Created Equal’s assertion that Stericycle disposes of Planned Parenthood’s fetal tissue comes in part from the Ohio Attorney General’s office. Last December, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine concluded an investigation into the alleged sale of fetal tissue by Planned Parenthood’s Ohio affiliates and found no illegal fetal tissue sales, but that clinics were disposing of fetal tissue in landfills.
In its summary of findings, the attorney general’s office stated that it confirmed during its investigation that Planned Parenthood’s Ohio affiliates contract with Stericycle to dispose of aborted fetuses.
But Stericycle has asserted that the company does not accept fetal tissue as a matter of policy.
“Even though Plaintiffs take no part whatsoever in any abortions and take no position on that subject or any of the activities of Planned Parenthood, Defendants’ illegal campaign is nonetheless calculated to attempt to imply the contrary by labeling Plaintiffs as enablers of killing children,” reads Stericycle’s complaint.
For now, Created Equal can resume its Project Weak Link campaign. The judge ruled that Stericycle has until April 25 to amend its original complaint.
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