First Liberty and Florida Attorney General File Suit to Protect Faith-Based Pregnancy Resource Centers

March 31, 2023
Face Act Launch | First Liberty Institute

by Jorge Gomez • 5 min read

First Liberty and Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody filed federal lawsuits this week to protect life-affirming reproductive health facilities from violence. First Liberty represents Heartbeat of Miami, a religious ministry providing services and support to women and couples facing unplanned pregnancies in Hialeah, Florida. Their facility has been subject to unlawful acts of vandalism.

Our suit seeks to hold accountable two individuals who defaced and spray-painted Heartbeat’s property. They also hacked their way onto Heartbeat’s guest list, giving them access into Heartbeat’s annual gala where they shouted obscenities, disparaged Heartbeat’s staff, volunteers, and supporters, and leafletted the venue with propaganda hoping to dissuade women from using Heartbeat’s services.

Attorney General Moody’s lawsuit is the first brought by a state Attorney General under the FACE Act to defend life-affirming reproductive health facilities, more commonly known as pregnancy resource centers. First Liberty President, CEO and Chief Counsel Kelly Shackelford said:

“Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody is leading the effort to protect all faith-based pregnancy care centers across the country. The rule of law compels this lawsuit. If you use violence as a means to advance your disagreement, you will be held accountable by the law.”

These attacks are punishable under federal law. The Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act not only makes it a federal crime to use force, threaten violence, or physically obstruct people from obtaining or providing reproductive health care services, it also imposes civil penalties against those who attempt to injure, intimidate, or interfere with life-affirming reproductive health facilities. President Clinton signed it into law in 1994 regarding abortion clinics. But the Act’s language includes “reproductive health services” and, in another provision of the FACE Act, provides churches with similar protections.

Pregnancy resource centers are charitable organizations often motivated by their religious beliefs to help pregnant mothers and families avoid abortion and choose life. They care for parents by distributing free diapers, wipes, formula, baby food, blankets and clothing. Many offer programs that help equip new parents facing the important job of raising their children. Others offer free screenings for STDs along with free pregnancy tests, medical consultations and professional counseling.

Despite their tremendous work, hundreds of these facilities have been horribly vandalized dating back to the leak of the Dobbs v Jackson draft opinion in May 2022. These attacks have only grown worse following the Court’s official ruling in Dobbs last June, which properly returned the power to regulate abortion to the states.

Vandalism has taken various forms, including fire bombing and arson which damaged or destroyed many properties, as well as rocks and bricks thrown through windows. Multiple facilities have been spray-painted and defaced with threatening messages, such as, “If abortion is not safe, you aren’t safe.”

Fox News reports that “Jane’s Revenge” is responsible for dozens of these attacks. The group has openly claimed credit for several, and even said they were at “war” with life-affirming groups. They demanded “the disbanding of all anti-choice establishments.” Since then, multiple attacks have used the words “Jane Was Here” or “REVENGE”.

First Liberty has been at the forefront of this battle for several months. Prior to this lawsuit, we and our friends at Massachusetts Family Institute sent a letter to that state’s Attorney General on behalf of a coalition of pregnancy resource centers. We asked the Massachusetts AG why she refused to enforce the law to protect these centers from the wave of criminal actions taken against them. We also requested that she withdraw both a public letter and “consumer advisory” she issued threatening sanctions and civil actions against these life-affirming organizations.

We also sent two letters to Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts on behalf of Heartbeat International, a different life-affirming faith-based organization. We responded to a radical statement she made citing “significant privacy concerns” over the group’s privacy policies regarding “pregnant people.” Our attorneys sought to hold her publicly accountable for her rhetoric and attempts to intimidate and investigate our client.

This issue has received attention. Major pro-life organizations have condemned attacks on life-affirming groups, including Heartbeat International, Students for Life Action, Concerned Women for America Legislative Action Committee, SBA Pro-Life America and Family Research Council.

National leaders have also spoken out and taken action. During a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing this month, Sen. Mike Lee of Utah pressed U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland to explain why just two people had been charged despite more than 200 incidents reported in the past year. Garland said the FBI and Justice Department are putting their “full resources” into tracking and punishing offenders. Sen. James Risch of Idaho introduced the Pregnancy Center Security Act, a bill to bolster security and better protect staff and patients.

No organization in America should be attacked because of its religious beliefs about life. Violence against faith-based groups that care for the most vulnerable is appalling. Everyone who cherishes freedom and civility should reject such attacks.

As our lawsuit makes clear, this violence isn’t just wrong. It’s illegal. Federal law states that if you attempt to injure, intimidate, or interfere with access to a reproductive health facility—including those that save lives and protect women from abuse—you will be held to account.

Terrorizing religious charities also betrays our founding principles. As a nation established on the promise of religious freedom, America is a safe haven where people of all faiths should be free to peacefully live out their beliefs. First Liberty will keep fighting so that religious groups, houses of worship and all Americans can practice their faith without fear of having their property burned, defaced or vandalized.

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