IssuesStatewide NewsEight Lawsuits Filed to Defend Use of Term “Criminal” to Describe Abortion Advocacy Groups

Pro-life Texans have requested courts to declare use of the term "criminal" in describing abortion advocacy groups as "truthful" and "non-defamatory."
July 20, 2020
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After pro-abortion groups in the state filed lawsuits against Right to Life of East Texas alleging defamation, some pro-life Texans have responded with their own lawsuits to defend the use of the term “criminal organization” in describing the abortion advocates.

The Lilith Fund for Reproductive Equity, the Texas Equal Access Fund, and the Afiya Center claimed in their June lawsuits that Right to Life of East Texas and the organization’s director, Mark Lee Dickson, had defamed their organizations by referring to them as “criminal” in ordinances proposed and enacted by many several cities.

Dickson has led the “Sanctuary Cities for the Unborn” movement, encouraging towns to adopt ordinances that effectively prohibit abortion within city limits.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a suit in federal court against several of those cities earlier this year, contesting language in the ordinances that classified particular organizations as “criminal.” 

After the towns amended their ordinances to remove naming any specific organizations — though they maintained penalties for groups that assist with abortions inside city limits — the ACLU withdrew their suit.

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Not long after, the Lilith Fund and the others filed their suits alleging that Dickson’s “defamatory characterization” in calling them “criminal” is “dangerous and damaging to the health and safety of Texans seeking abortion care.”

Dickson stood by his comments, contending that since the pre-Roe v. Wade Texas laws were never repealed by the state legislature, the description of “criminal organization” is still accurate, even if the laws are not enforced.

“When I heard about Mark being sued my first response was, ‘If they sued him they could sue any of us!’” said Kati Morris, one of the residents to file one of the new lawsuits. “We wanted to file the lawsuit because it could be any one of us getting sued next.”

The eight lawsuits were filed by Texans in the district courts of Eastland, Franklin, Hockley, Hood, Panola, Rusk, Smith, and Taylor counties, and they make the same argument as Dickson.

“[T]he law of Texas continues to define abortion as a criminal offense — even though the current federal judiciary is unlikely to uphold convictions obtained under those statutes until Roe v. Wade is overruled,” reads the suit. “The same goes for conduct that aids and abets an abortion.”

The pro-life plaintiffs are primarily seeking relief in the form of a declaratory judgment from the courts that because the abortion laws were never repealed, “it is therefore truthful (and non-defamatory) to describe organizations that aid and abet elective abortions in Texas as engaged in ‘criminal’ behavior.’”

The Lilith Fund did not reply to a request for comment at the time of publishing.

“We are merely requesting that the court affirm the truth about Texas law, which is that Texas has never repealed its pre-Roe statutes that outlaw abortion. Therefore, it is both truthful and non-defamatory to describe abortion as a criminal act under Texas law,” said Erick Kaardal, special counsel for the Thomas More Society and one of the attorneys representing the residents.

In addition to Kaardal, the residents are being represented by Thomas Brejcha and Martin Whittaker of the Thomas More Society, former Texas Solicitor General Jonathan Mitchell, state Sen. Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola), and H. Dustin Fillmore III and Charles W. Fillmore of The Fillmore Firm in Fort Worth.

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Daniel Friend

Daniel Friend

Daniel Friend is a reporter for The Texan. He participated in a Great Books program at Azusa Pacific University and graduated in 2019 with a degree in Political Science. He has studied C.S. Lewis’s science fiction trilogy and in his spare time you might find him writing his own novel partly inspired by the series.