Columbus Pro-Life Group Sued for Being Annoying
Waste management company loses bid for restraining order against Ohio activists
A judge in Waukegan (IL), heard arguments yesterday in a freedom of speech case against Columbus-based pro-life organization Created Equal by the medical waste disposal company Stericycle, Inc. Circuit Judge Margaret Marcoullier dismissed the Fortune 500 company’s request for a restraining order against the group, rejecting claims that a leafletting campaign in the CEO’s Illinois neighborhood threatened its multinational business.
Stericycle filed for a restraining order against Created Equal’s “Project Weak Link” initiative aimed at the company, which handles the remains of aborted babies for many Planned Parenthood affiliates and other abortion businesses across the country. The project, which attorneys from Chicago non-profit law firm the Thomas More Society describe as an “ethics awareness campaign,” aims to inform people by social media, print materials, and truck-mounted mobile billboards that Stericycle’s services are crucial to keeping abortion businesses running.
On March 31, Stericycle filed a suit against Created Equal PAC and it’s executive director, Mark Harrington, “on several grounds,” according to local press in Illinois, and sought a temporary restraining order against the campaign. Created Equal agreed to suspect the campaign until yesterday’s court date, but requested that the suit be dismissed.
“The ‘David vs. Goliath’ courtroom match-up teamed the small advocacy group and Chicago-based pro-bono attorneys against multibillion dollar, S&P 500-listed, publicly-traded Stericycle and its legal team headed by former United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, Scott Lassar of Sidley Austin,” said a spokesman for TMS. “Special Counsel Peter Breen successfully argued the defense, attacking both on First Amendment free speech grounds and against the claims by Stericycle CEO Charles Alutto that he was a victim of ‘false accusations’ by Created Equal.”
At issue was were Project Weak Link’s claims and tactics. The campaign includes a website that explains the issue; asserts that Planned Parenthood and other abortion businesses cannot operate without agreements with waste disposal companies to take their corpses; asks people to sign an online petition aimed at asking Stericycle to stop doing so; and urges readers to contact Stericycle’s CEO, Charles Alutto at his home address and by his work phone number.
Contact Stericycle CEO Charles Alutto to respectfully request Stericycle discontinue providing Planned Parenthood with the services of collecting, transporting, and disposing of aborted children and the instruments used to kill them (sample script for calls and emails: download/view).
- Phone: 847-607-2004
- Email: email@example.com
- Fax: 847-367-9493
- Physical mail: Charles Alutto, Chairman of the Board, Stericycle, Inc., 28161 North Keith Drive, Lake Forest IL 60045
— wording on Created Equal’s Project Weak Link/Killers Among Us website; telephone numbers are for Stericycle offices
Also called “Killers Among Us,” the campaign is part of a larger pro-life action strategy that includes activities such as co-sponsoring a national day to protest Planned Parenthood (see our story on Cincinnati’s 2015 rally here); visits to college campuses; and bus “Justice Rides” for groups of young volunteers who make stops at public squares and other locations to talk to people about abortion.
In his declaration to the court before the hearing, Created Equal founder and President Mark Harrington explained how the group’s awareness campaigns work.
“Each campaign is modeled in the same fashion,” he said. “The selected individual or group receives a letter stating that Created Equal is aware of their participation in the abortion industry, encouraging them to cease participation, and including a sample of postcards and billboards that may be used in an effort to publicly disclose this person’s involvement in abortion.”
Stericycle filed for the restraining order after Created Equal distributed postcards in Alutto’s neighborhood. The postcards included his home address and work phone number, information Harrington said is easily found by a simple internet search, and less information than anyone could find and post.
“We never posted Mr. Alutto’s home phone number online,” the declaration continued. “I, on behalf of Created Equal, have many times in the past put the home address of individuals participating with abortion providers on similar postcards, without incident.”
In its brief to the court the Thomas More Society’s attorneys wrote that Stericycle’s lawsuit “seeks to silence speech and leafletting protected under the First Amendment” and that “the United States and Illinois constitutions bar plaintiffs from shutting down the debate and enjoining peaceful leafletting and speech.”
According to the same brief, Stericycle’s suit claims that the leaflets distributed in Alutto’s neighborhood were an invasion of his privacy and a nuisance, and forbidding them would cause Created Equal to suffer “no hardship whatsoever.” But TMS argued that American case law establishes that losing the right of free speech for “even minimal amounts of time” causes “irreparable injury” — that is, that restricting freedom of speech is by its nature a hardship and an irreparable harm.
TMC also argued that the purpose of a restraining order is to preserve the status quo until a suit is resolved, and that the status quo in the United States is free speech — not restricted speech. Morever, the brief of the case asserted, none of the four requirements for granting a restraining order had been met: 1) the plaintiff had not demonstrated a right in need of protection, 2) the plaintiff had not shown that Alutto or the company would suffer irreparable harm by the campaign, 3) the plaintiff had not shown that existing law did not provide adequate remedies for any harm that might ensue, and 4) the plaintiffs had not shown that the suit was likely to prevail.
Instead, TMC argued, Stericycle had claimed only a “generic right to be protected from a ‘threatened business interest'” and claimed that the company’s business was being represented in a “false light” without showing either that the threat to business interest was great enough that Stericycle needed court protection, or that the claims Created Equal made were false.
Many residents of Lake Forest, where the postcards were distributed, found the leaflets upsetting and even obscene, according to an article in Daily North Shore, because they included an enlarged photograph depicting a dismembered fetus. The photo, Created Equal says, was not included for shock value, but was intended to counter what Harrington and his staff call a “semantic ploy.”
“According to [company] policy, Stericycle will not accept ‘complete human remains,’ which includes fetuses,” a Facebook post explaining the campaign reads. “However, babies are not ‘complete’ after being dismembered, decapitated, and disemboweled in standard abortion methods.”
Patterned after Civil Rights groups of the 1960s, Created Equal uses many of the same tactics developed then to confront people with the reality of abortion, which the group considers to be the greatest civil rights issue of our time. While many pro-life groups avoid using “abortion victim” photos in favor of arguments for the personhood of unborn children or sympathy for desperate mothers, Created Equal asserts that no oppressed people has ever been rescued without creating public awareness of the violence and brutality of their oppression, and that photographs of bodies mangled by abortion are the most effective way to show what abortion does.
Created Equal is a national co-sponsor of the second annual National Day to #ProtestPP (April 23rd). Cincinnati’s observation, sponsored by Right to Life of Greater Cincinnati and several other Ohio and Northern Kentucky pro-life organizations, will take place from 9-11 am at the Mt. Auburn Planned Parenthood abortion business, and will include speakers from several pro-life organizations including Created Equal (for information see the Facebook event page.)
“Clarity is needed regarding medical waste companies’ policies and procedures and disposal of aborted babies whether intact or dismembered,” says Paula Westwood, executive director of Right to Life of Greater Cincinnati. “Created Equal has taken the lead to obtain this clarity, which hopefully will result in humane disposition of these poor children’s bodies.”
Judge Marcoullier denied the restraining order without comment, but allowed Stericycle 14 days to amend its suit. Created Equal maintains that Stericycle’s complaints against the group amounts to nothing more than a bully’s response to being annoyed.
“This is a victory for free speech,” said TMC’s Breen, who also said the law firm will continue its efforts to have the case dismissed. “The Supreme Court has recognized that no business has the right to be ‘free from public criticism of its practices.’ 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.”
“We will not be bullied into silence,” Harrington said after the decision. “This lawsuit confirms that Stericycle is more interested in doing the dirty work for Planned Parenthood than protecting their image as a respectable waste disposal company. Further public exposure of their sloppy and unethical business practices in a lawsuit is far more damaging to Stericycle’s image than ceasing to dispose of aborted babies for Planned Parenthood. If Stericycle is really concerned about their image, they need to cease transporting and disposing of aborted babies for Planned Parenthood. The campaign continues.”
Photos courtesy Created Equal.
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