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Democratic AG puts pro-life ministry on defensive, while ignoring Planned Parenthood misinfo: suit

Consumer fraud investigations less likely to face immediate scrutiny from judges than laws singling out disfavored groups' speech. No concern from NJ's Matthew Platkin on Planned Parenthood misrepresenting misoprostol, suit claims.

Published: December 18, 2023 11:38pm

Updated: December 19, 2023 1:14pm

Democratic state officials who want to put pro-life pregnancy centers on the defensive without drawing immediate scrutiny from courts seem to be coalescing around a strategy: time-consuming and expensive document demands.

New Jersey Attorney General Matthew Platkin issued an "unreasonable and improper subpoena" to faith-based First Choice Women's Resource Centers last month, focused on its handling of patient data and practice of "abortion pill reversal," which the centers tell women is "not guaranteed" to save their pregnancy, the centers said in a lawsuit filed last week.

This amounts to a fishing expedition into the centers' lawful activities, protected speech and religious observance that would "sweep up massive amounts of information, confidential internal communications, and documents unrelated to his stated purpose for the investigation," the suit claims, seeking a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction.

It alleges Platkin committed First Amendment retaliation and over-breadth and "unbridled discretion" and violated their free-exercise, association and privilege rights, First and Fourteenth amendment selective enforcement, viewpoint discrimination and vagueness, and Fourth Amendment unreasonable search and seizure.

First Choice's lawyers at the Alliance Defending Freedom filed a similar lawsuit two weeks earlier against Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson for actions dating back a year and a half, and they have characterizing him and Platkin as unashamed tools of Big Abortion using their offices to squelch opposing views.

Both investigations were premised on each state's consumer fraud laws, which First Choice says aren't even applicable to its nonprofit ministry.

But such rationales seem less likely to draw immediate rebukes from courts on First Amendment grounds than laws explicitly singling out a disfavored group's speech.

Illinois agreed to a permanent injunction against enforcement of its law against pro-life pregnancy centers last week to resolve litigation, months after a judge called it "stupid and very likely unconstitutional" and quickly blocked it.

The Supreme Court blocked a similar California law five years ago.

This fall the Golden State quietly disavowed its "medical misinformation" law, also immediately blocked in court, that threatened the licenses of medical professionals for straying from a fluctuating "scientific consensus" on COVID-19 in discussions with patients.

The New Civil Liberties Alliance, which represents the doctors who sued California, was in federal court Monday arguing its case is not moot because the law, Assembly Bill 2098, was rescinded "in bad faith … to evade adverse precedent from the government's perspective." 

California AG Rob Bonta sued Heartbeat International and the northern California pro-life pregnancy center chain RealOptions Obria in September for "fraudulent and misleading claims" about abortion pill reversal, which he claims has "no credible scientific backing."

"All major studies show that using progesterone to counteract a chemical abortion can be effective since it’s the very same hormone a woman’s body produces to sustain her pregnancy," Heartbeat International publicly responded

New Jersey's Platkin participated in events by Planned Parenthood's state campaign arm and his office consulted Planned Parenthood on the wording for his "consumer alert" against pro-life pregnancy centers, which baselessly asserted that First Choice provides "false or misleading information" about its centers' services, ultrasounds and reproductive healthcare, the suit claims.

The allegedly false information made its way into Democratic Rep. Josh Gottheimer's campaign against New Jersey's pro-life pregnancy centers, calling them "brainwashing cult clinics" that endanger women.

The AG's interest in consumer protection was ideologically selective, according to First Choice, because he ignored "several large, recent, and well-publicized instances" of Planned Parenthood exposing sensitive patient information including the specific clinics where patients had abortions.

The suit calls Planned Parenthood a repeat purveyor of misinformation about chemical abortion for claiming it's possible with "only misoprostol" and works "85-95% of the time" up to 11 weeks after a woman's last period, which First Choice says is contradicted by a 2012 study that found a 24% failure rate when mifepristone wasn't used with misoprostol.

Platkin's Nov. 15 subpoena cites his authority under the Consumer Fraud Act and Charitable Registration and Investigation Act and his investigative authority under the professions code. 

The suit claims it's startlingly over-broad, seeking "every" solicitation and advertisement across social and print media, e-commerce platforms, video, podcasts and even Pinterest, and the past 10 years of documents substantiating First Choice's claims on what determines whether "medical abortion is even an option," how abortion-pill reversal works and when it is most successful.

Platkin is also seeking all documents provided to clients and donors, including intake forms and questionnaires, representations about First Choice's confidentiality, the identities of personnel who have provided "any kind of ultrasound service" and where it referred clients for reversals.

First Choice has struggled with full staffing across its five clinics since the pandemic, and complying with the subpoena would require its top officials and "all medical staff" at least a month to produce all requested documents, the suit claims.

"Staff members who normally devote their time to serving women in need and communicating with essential supporters would have to cease their mission-driven activities to comply with AG Platkin’s oppressive demands," the plaintiff says.

It would also likely gut its donations, "as donors will be hesitant to associate with the Ministry out of fear of retaliation and public exposure" from Platkin, and drive away current employees and associates for the same reasons.

The centers are seeking preliminary and permanent injunctions against the subpoena, declaratory judgment that it violates their constitutional rights and attorney's fees.

"Under longstanding New Jersey law, non-profits operating in our state cannot engage in deception about the work they do," Platkin's office told Just the News in a written statement. "And New Jersey law provides the Attorney General clear authority to investigate non-profits that may be violating those requirements."

The lawsuit shows "First Choice is refusing to even answer questions about its candor and its operations," the statement also reads. "But our subpoena does not violate their rights, and we are confident that the courts will agree."

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