Pro-life pregnancy centers exist to help women facing unplanned pregnancies. Rather than encourage them to abort their children like Planned Parenthood does, these centers offer alternatives that preserve the lives of both mothers and their children.
But some government officials are targeting pregnancy centers because they disagree with the centers’ pro-life views. The pro-abortion attorney general of Washington state has already targeted one network of pregnancy centers in the Pacific Northwest, and now another pro-abortion AG is doing the same in New Jersey.
Caring for pregnant women
First Choice Women’s Resource Centers has been providing services to pregnant women since 1985. The organization exists to give women the information and resources they need to make life-affirming decisions for themselves and their unborn children. First Choice also provides counsel for both men and women facing unplanned pregnancies to guide them through the situation and help them take control of their lives.
First Choice operates five locations in New Jersey and offers services free of charge. In its nearly 40 years of operation, it has served over 36,000 women facing unplanned pregnancies.
First Choice provides a variety of services such as pregnancy testing, counseling, ultrasounds, parenting education, material support including baby clothes and diapers, and more. It is also a nationally leading organization for abortion pill reversal (APR), a service available for pregnant women who have taken only the first drug in the two-step abortion drug regimen.
As a Christian nonprofit, First Choice believes that life is crafted by God and begins at conception. All of First Choice’s employees, board members, and volunteers must adhere to a statement of faith, which includes a commitment to protect and honor life in all stages of development.
New Jersey’s hostile attorney general
In February 2022, pro-abortion New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy appointed Matthew Platkin as his AG. Like Gov. Murphy, AG Platkin has been vocal about his support for abortion. He referred to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization as an “extreme right-wing decision” and a “devastating setback for women’s rights in America,” and he instituted a $5 million grant program to fund abortion training and expand the pool of abortion providers in New Jersey.
AG Platkin has also been vocal about his hostility toward groups that disagree with him about abortion. He has referred to pro-life groups as “extremists attempting to stop those from seeking reproductive healthcare that they need.” And without citing any evidence, he issued a statewide “consumer alert” declaring that pro-life pregnancy centers like First Choice “provide false or misleading information[.]” Not only that, but he asked Planned Parenthood to help him write it.
AG Platkin issues unfounded subpoena
In November 2023, AG Platkin issued a subpoena to First Choice. He demanded the organization turn over 10 years’ worth of documents including its statements on APR, information provided to clients and donors, documents identifying personnel, copies of every First Choice solicitation and advertisement, and information related to outside organizations it works with.
AG Platkin did not cite any complaints or evidence that First Choice had violated New Jersey law. Rather, he is targeting First Choice because of its religious and pro-life views.
First Choice has struggled to maintain full staffing since the COVID-19 pandemic, and if it were to comply with AG Platkin’s unreasonable subpoena, the nonprofit would be unable to focus on its mission of helping pregnant women. First Choice estimates that it would take several staff members—including the executive director, the volunteer medical director, the finance department, and all medical staff—at least an entire month to produce all the requested documents.
In addition, First Choice needs to maintain donor anonymity because many of its donors give for personal or faith-based reasons. If the organization were required to reveal a list of supporters, contributions would likely drop off as potential supporters feared retaliation for giving. Similarly, many employees and allied organizations would likely fear retaliation if their relationships with First Choice were made public, and some may choose to leave for that reason.
Challenging the AG’s demands
Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys challenged the unlawful subpoena on First Choice’s behalf in December 2023. The attorney general’s demands are unlawful for several reasons, and ADF is seeking to protect the freedom of First Choice and other pregnancy centers like it to operate according to their beliefs.
To begin, the First Amendment prohibits government officials from retaliating against Americans for speaking out. First Choice engaged in constitutionally protected speech by advocating for its pro-life mission, but AG Platkin issued a subpoena meant to chill that speech without citing any other compelling reason.
Next, the First and 14th Amendments protect First Choice from viewpoint discrimination. By targeting only pro-life groups and not organizations that advocate for abortion, AG Platkin is unlawfully discriminating against First Choice because of its pro-life viewpoint.
In addition, the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment protects the rights of Americans to practice their religion without unlawful interference by government officials. By issuing an unfounded subpoena against First Choice while ignoring misleading statements posted by Planned Parenthood, AG Platkin is treating a religious organization worse than others because of its beliefs. That is a clear First Amendment violation.
Plus, by demanding that First Choice reveal the identities of and communications with its employees, donors, and allied organizations, AG Platkin is violating the First Amendment’s protection of free association. Government officials cannot punish Americans because they choose to associate with others to express a message.
- November 2023: AG Platkin issued an unlawful subpoena demanding that First Choice turn over 10 years’ worth of documents including its statements on Abortion Pill Reversal, information it provided to clients and donors, documents identifying personnel, copies of every First Choice solicitation and advertisement, and information related to outside organizations that First Choice works with.
- December 2023: ADF attorneys filed a lawsuit challenging the unjust subpoena.
- January 2024: The district court dismissed the case for lack of jurisdiction, and First Choice appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit.