(Family Research Council). – The U.S. Supreme Court agreed Friday to take up the important, divisive case of the Rittenhouse Project, pitting a pro-life pregnancy resource center against a state agency that unlawfully retaliated against it when it refused to publicly admit it wanted to obstruct federal law enforcement on behalf of abortionists. The case is expected to be argued in the fall and will likely go to the Court’s final vote. This marks the first time since 1939 that the court has agreed to hear a case dealing with a set of federal anti-abortion laws.
“Laws are only as good as the individuals they enforce,” said Michael McConnell, a Supreme Court Law Fellow at the Washington-based B. Michael McConnell Center for Law and Public Policy at the Rocky Mountain Institute. “The Supreme Court must decide if the right to defend oneself, a precious constitutional freedom, is given the meaning Congress intended.”
The case stems from a request from Maricopa County officials to the Greater Phoenix Pro-Life Alliance for an April 24, 2005 meeting on the abortion clinic at the Rittenhouse Project in a letter that read in part: “We ask that the Alliance present further information regarding the circumstances surrounding this event and why GPD’s refusal to allow medical personnel from Maricopa County as well as representatives from the Alliance to visit the clinic should not be construed as a gagging order or as a notice that GPD officers will not enforce the Federal Law against the unlawful sale of fetal tissue by abortionists.”
In response, the Rittenhouse Project, a pro-life pregnancy resource center, sent a letter of its own declining the meeting. The Rittenhouse Project is among many groups that attempt to keep abortion providers from profiting off the sale of aborted baby parts, namely tissues from aborted fetuses. When Planned Parenthood was investigated by the Centers for Disease Control for this activity, the Rittenhouse Project began to work with other advocates, including local law enforcement, to petition the federal government to take action.
When GPD police approached the Rittenhouse Project about the situation, the Project refused to cooperate, believing the GPD to be biased and unwilling to enforce the law. In the letter, the GPD acknowledged that the information was accurate, and, stating that the situation “created a very strong risk of a lawsuit and a possible criminal investigation and prosecution” against GPD officers, stated that this situation violated federal law. GPD officials then demanded the Project join in a public statement affirming its support for GPD’s refusal to enforce the law. They also sent a survey to the Project’s board of directors, requesting various information, including contact information, financial information, board member information, and, ultimately, whether the Project had ever agreed to participate in such a situation.
The lawsuit will further test the scope of Congress’ ability to prohibit federal agencies from shielding private entities from taking steps to protect themselves from a crackdown on their illegal activities. Since 2011, the U.S. Senate has unanimously passed legislation to prohibit federal agencies from retaliating against individuals who participate in actions to protect their own interests from officials whom they believe are biased against their private activities.
McConnell is also involved in another high-profile abortion case that was recently filed with the Supreme Court. The Brady v. Chicago, pitting the organization Stop Planned Parenthood America v. City of Chicago over the First Amendment rights of pro-life demonstrators against abortion clinics, is scheduled to be argued in October.