LAKE FOREST, Ill. — A county circuit court judge has rejected the nation’s largest medical waste provider’s request to stop a pro-life group from distributing information about the company’s disposal of aborted babies for Planned Parenthood and other abortion facilities nationwide.
As part of its “Project Weak Link,” the Ohio-based group Created Equal had distributed leaflets last month in an awareness campaign surrounding the medical waste company Stericycle and its service to Planned Parenthood and other abortion facilities. Created Equal distributed the information in Lake Forest, Illinois, where the corporate headquarters of Stericycle is located, as well as in the neighborhood of its president, Charles Alutto.
On March 31, Stericycle sought an injunction against Created Equal and its leader Mark Harrington, stating that the distribution of the information would hurt the company’s right to privacy and that Stericycle would “lose business, customer relationships, and customer goodwill” over the effort. It also asked that Created Equal be ordered to pay damages to the company for canvassing area homes with its awareness cards, and said that Alutto was being portrayed in a “false light.”
Attorneys for Created Equal argued that Harrington’s speech is protected under the First Amendment, and that Stericycle had not provided any information or evidence to the court that the company or President Alutto had been portrayed falsely.
“The United States Supreme Court, in a factual situation much like this one, held unequivocally that courts—and plaintiffs—may not enjoin ‘peaceful distribution of informational literature’ by ‘[d]esignating the conduct as an invasion of privacy,'” attorneys with the Thomas Moore Society argued in legal briefs. “The same holds true for an attempt to enjoin protected expression by mislabeling it a private nuisance.”
“Alutto has failed to allege facts which support the claim of false light,” they continued. “Without facts indicating even a question as to whether he was portrayed in a false light, his right of privacy is clearly not in need of protection. Further, his reputational claim is inextricably linked to his public role in Stericycle’s business.”
On Monday, Lake County Associate Judge Margaret Marcouiller rejected Stericycle’s request for an injunction against Created Equal’s awareness campaign, stating that she saw no proof that anything in the leaflets was untrue.
“This is not a substantial invasion or usurping of the enjoyment of real property,” she ruled. “This would be an impermissible prior restraint on an issue of public debate. Even insulting and outrageous speech must be tolerated.”
However, Marcoullier gave Stericycle two weeks to amend its complaint if desired.
“No business has the right to be ‘free from public criticism of its practices.’ Companies have a responsibility to be accountable to the public. When businesses like Stericycle engage in practices to which the public objects, citizens have a right to express displeasure, deliver bad reviews, and ask others to speak out against the business as well,” said Thomas Moore attorney Peter Breen in a statement. “Abortion industry partners like Stericycle are not exempt.”
“Stericycle’s complaint boils down to this, ‘We are mad at you for exposing our dirty little secret about our grisly business partnership with Planned Parenthood, so we are going to try to use the courts to bully you into silence.’ Won’t work,” Harrington also commented on social media.
Stericycle has denied that it disposes of aborted babies and did so again in a statement on Monday following Marcoullier’s ruling.
“[W]e require health-care facilities that work with Stericycle to agree to a stringent set of policies that prohibit our handling of fetuses,” it said. “We serve only customers who certify that they understand, agree to follow and do follow these policies.”
However, the medical waste company has found itself in hot water on several instances in recent years after it was found to be improperly disposing of fetal remains in landfills.
As previously reported, in December, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine’s office outlined that it had discovered that Stericycle, which serves the Bedford Heights Planned Parenthood, had been picking up aborted babies from the location and either having them steamed or incinerated, depending on how Planned Parenthood had marked the boxes. The discovery prompted DeWine to move to stop Planned Parenthood from having babies dumped in landfills, but a court denied DeWine’s request.
Planned Parenthood told the Associated Press that it believes its contract with Stericycle allowed for the disposal of fetal remains. Stericycle said that it was unaware of the contents of the containers.
Stericycle is also facing possible fines in South Carolina for likewise disposing of aborted babies in a landfill, and the company was fined $42,000 in Texas in 2011 for dumping fetal remains from Whole Woman’s Health in Austin with household and commercial trash.
“It was explained that medical waste is placed in red biohazard bags, then placed into boxes provided by Stericycle. Each fetus resulting from an abortion is placed into a hard plastic container and then into a red biohazard bag. The bag is then placed into a freezer, where it is stored,” an investigative report from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) outlined.
“When Stericycle arrives to transport the medical waste, the individual fetuses are removed from the freezer and placed into another large red biohazard bag. The red biohazard bag containing the fetuses is placed into the medical waste box along with other medical waste generated at the facility that requires treatment,” it continued. “According to facility representatives and the medical waste manifest reviewed, it appears that Stericycle picks up the waste once per week.”
TCEQ additionally spoke with Joel Barr of Stericycle’s Austin plant, and was informed that “medical waste containing fetuses or tissue should be sent for incineration.”
“The facility representatives informed me that boxes of waste containing fetuses and/or tissue should be sent for incineration at the Stericycle incinerator in Apopka, Florida,” TCEQ investigator Chris Wiatrek wrote.
The Campaign to Stop Stericycle, which has been working to expose Stericycle’s collection, transportation and incineration of aborted babies, also notes that grand jury documents surrounding the criminal case of convicted Philadelphia abortionist Kermit Gosnell outline that Gosnell used Stericycle to dispose of aborted babies as well.
“James Johnson, who worked for Gosnell since 2001, testified that his duties included collecting the red biohazard bags of fetal remains and putting them in boxes for pickup by an outside firm, Stericycle,” the Grand Jury Presentment explained.
The Campaign to Stop Stericycle had conducted an investigation into the company’s practices and was told that it services Planned Parenthood locations nationwide, and that it does not inquire about the contents of the boxes collected at abortion facilities. However, it provides the facilities with “incinerate only” stickers for “pathological waste” containers—those containing body parts and fluids.