A coalition of conservative organizations is taking legal action to obtain documents from the Department of Justice related to the surge in pro-abortion attacks on churches and pro-life pregnancy centers and a lack of prosecution from the agency.
Based on data compiled by CNA, there have been more than 100 attacks on churches and pro-life pregnancy centers since the May 2022 leak of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health, which overturned the abortion protections guaranteed in Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey. The DOJ has failed to prosecute the perpetrators in nearly all of the attacks.
A lawsuit led by the Heritage Foundation and Advancing American Freedom accuses the DOJ of failing to provide them with documents requested through the Freedom of Information Act. The documents requested include all records and internal DOJ communication related to crimes against pro-life pregnancy centers and churches. The requests also include all communications between the DOJ and the Domestic Policy Council or the Executive Office of the President related to investigations of these crimes.
The lawsuit accuses the DOJ of failing to “promptly review agency records for the purpose of locating and collecting those records” and failing “to conduct searches for responsive records” required by FOIA and DOJ regulations. The lawsuit further claims that the coalition has “exhausted their administrative remedies” in attempting to obtain the documents. It further accuses the DOJ of wrongfully denying their request for a waiver of the FOIA request fees.
“[Attorney General] Merrick Garland and his top officials at DOJ clearly hold us in contempt,” Mike Howell, the director of the Oversight Project, said in a statement provided to CNA. Howell is one of the people suing the DOJ for these documents.
“They refuse to prosecute those who violently attack pro-life organizations simply for existing and who attempt to coerce and intimidate Supreme Court justices into ruling the way the mob desires,” Howell continued. “Meanwhile, they send SWAT teams to the homes of pro-life Americans to arrest and prosecute them on trumped-up, phony charges.”
The lawsuit states that the groups have faced “irreparable harm” because “they are being denied information to which they are statutorily entitled.” The lawsuit asks the court to order the DOJ to conduct searches and provide the documents within 20 days or whatever date the court deems appropriate. It also asks the court to order the DOJ to provide the documents free of charge.
“It is clear that President Biden’s politicized Department of Justice is fearful of igniting the wrath of the far left and abortion extremists,” J. Marc Wheat, who serves as general counsel for Advancing American Freedom, said in a statement provided to CNA. The organization is part of the coalition suing the DOJ.
“The American people have a right to know why those who burned and vandalized pregnancy centers have not been held accountable for their violence against traditional conservatives and pro-life groups,” Wheat added.
Despite the allegations in the lawsuit, the DOJ has claimed it has lived up to its legal obligations in how it has handled the FOIA requests. As mentioned in the lawsuit, the Federal Bureau of Investigation responded to the request but closed it because it did not “contain enough descriptive information to permit a search of our records.”
The DOJ has also stated that its Office of Information Policy informed the coalition that the searches could take longer than 30 days and provided contact information for a FOIA public liaison to assist with the request. The DOJ has further noted that the DOJ provided them with contact information for the Office of Government Information Services, which it has argued is consistent with the legal requirements for an agency if it cannot produce the documents within 30 days.
In January of this year, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution that condemned the attacks on churches and pro-life pregnancy centers. However, the condemnation was mostly partisan: All 219 House Republicans voted in favor of the resolution, but only three Democrats voted for it.
Some Republican lawmakers have accused Garland and the DOJ of selective enforcement of the law, claiming that they aggressively enforce laws that protect abortion facilities but neglect to enforce laws that protect pro-life pregnancy centers. In October, Rep. Jim Jordan, who now chairs the House Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government, launched an investigation into allegations that the DOJ has harshly enforced laws against pro-life activists but has failed to enforce them against pro-abortion activists who have attacked churches and pro-life pregnancy centers.