Last week, Jay Sekulow and the lawyers with the American Center for Law & Justice (ACLJ), an anti-choice legal group founded by televangelist Pat Robertson, filed a petition for writ of certiorari with the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of anti-choice radical Troy Newman. The case asks the Court to review Newman’s case after the Ninth Circuit Court ruled against him, issuing a preliminary injunction forbidding him and the discredited Center for Medical Progress (CMP)—an anti-choice group he formerly served as a board member for—from publishing certain recordings.
CMP, of course, is the same group whose deceptively edited videos have been at the heart of Republicans’ campaign to defund Planned Parenthood, despite numerous state and federal investigations having turned up no evidence of wrongdoing on behalf of the health-care provider. In the aftermath of the video releases, clinics across the country saw an uptick in violence.
As Rewire reported, the anti-choice front group masquerading as so-called citizen journalists already has ties to the White House. Longtime abortion opponent and White House adviser Kellyanne Conway previously consulted on those same videos for CMP, her financial disclosure forms revealed in April, and Newman himself met with and endorsed Trump in the 2016 presidential election.
But it seems Republican President Donald Trump and Troy Newman don’t just share an affinity for dangerous anti-choice rhetoric and policy—they also share a lawyer.
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Hired earlier this summer as a member of Trump’s personal legal team, Sekulow is just another addition to growing list of vocal anti-choice activists added to the president’s circle of confidants and another connection between the White House and CMP.
Sekulow and his organization have themselves waged a years-long war on Planned Parenthood. The ACLJ and Sekulow filed an amicus brief with a federal appeals court in 2012 advocating for the court to allow the State of Texas to defund the health provider. In a post published at BeliefNet.com, Sekulow noted that the ACLJ had created a “Committee to Stop Taxpayer Funding of Abortion” in support of their defunding goal.
The ACLJ released a film in 2016 titled Abortion Inc., which according to its website sought to peel “back the deceptive talking points of Planned Parenthood and their pro-abortion allies.”
In an op-ed for the Tribune News Service in 2015 in the wake of the initial release of CMP’s videos, he urged Congress to deny funding to Planned Parenthood, misleadingly framing the money the health provider receives as “giving taxpayer dollars to the nation’s largest abortion provider” though the Hyde Amendment already bans federal dollars from funding abortion care. Sekulow has repeatedly attempted to provide cover for CMP, offering the group credibility by referring to the group as “investigative journalists” despite its decidedly partisan and often radical backers.
Last month, Sekulow devoted an entire episode of his show, Jay Sekulow Live!, to replaying a trailer and clips from Abortion Inc. At the end of the program, Sekulow plugged his “fight against Planned Parenthood.” It is a theme that has often popped up on his show.
Sekulow’s work with Newman—who has argued that abortion be treated as murder and was detained in Australia over fears stemming from his extremism—comes as little surprise given the legal scholar’s own record and his history with Newman’s group Operation Rescue, a splinter group of the same name that arose from the original Operation Rescue, which is now known as Operation Save America.
When Operation Rescue founder Randall Terry was arrested in 1989 following protests outside of an Atlanta abortion clinic, Sekulow took up his cause. Though Terry eventually broke from Operation Rescue, Sekulow reportedly represented the group in the early ’90s when it launched its “Summer of Mercy.” The radical group set up shop outside of abortion clinics in Wichita, Kansas, to harass abortion patients and providers including Dr. George Tiller, who would later be murdered by anti-choice activist Scott Roeder. According to an article on Operation Rescue’s history posted to its website, Sekulow was among the speakers who addressed protesters in the summer’s culminating rally.
Operation Rescue was among the anti-choice activists Sekulow defended in the 1993 Supreme Court case Bray v. Alexandria Women’s Health Clinic, which ultimately ruled that anti-choice activists could protest outside of abortion clinics. He again argued for the radical group in a 2003 case before the Court to determine whether anti-choice groups had violated the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), and again in a related 2006 consolidated case.
And his stringent opposition to abortion and seemingly reproductive health care at large goes beyond CMP and Operation Rescue.
Sekulow defended anti-choice activists in the 1997 Supreme Court case Schenck v. Pro-Choice Network of Western New York, where the Court ruled that “fixed buffer zones” around abortion clinics were constitutional. He lost a 2000 case before the Court in Hill v. Colorado, which ruled in favor of Colorado restrictions on “sidewalk counseling” outside of abortion clinics. In a biography posted to his website, Sekulow boasted that he has “submitted numerous amicus curiae briefs to the Supreme Court in some of the most groundbreaking litigation of the past quarter century” such as “pro-life legislation including the federal ban on partial birth abortion.”
When President George W. Bush signed a ban on “partial-birth abortion”—a non-medical term concocted by anti-choice activists to inflame rhetoric in the abortion debate—into law in 2003, Sekulow was reportedly in the room.
He has positioned himself as an eager supporter of fake clinics often referred to as “crisis pregnancy centers” (CPCs), which often lie to patients in an attempt to persuade them not to have an abortion.
As the keynote speaker of a 2014 annual fundraising banquet for the Augusta Care Pregnancy Center, a CPC, Sekulow went as far as to reportedly suggest similarities between abortion and terrorist group ISIS. According to a report from the Augusta Chronicle, Sekulow “said the same demonic spirit is motivating abortions, and crisis pregnancy centers like the Augusta Care Pregnancy Center are a clinical response to an emotional situation, and it’s changing lives every day.”
That same year Sekulow appeared as the keynote speaker at a fundraising event for the Pregnancy Assistance Center North, in Texas. The organization’s 990 forms identify it as a crisis pregnancy center, and list Sekulow as having contributed $10,000 to it during the 2014-2015 tax year. He spoke for the organization, an affiliate of Care Net, a second time in 2016 at another fundraiser, telling the crowd that he wished to see the work of the organization expand.
Sekulow has long been a regular on conservative media, where, according to watchdog group Media Matters for America, he frequents programs such as Premiere Networks’ The Sean Hannity Show and Fox News’ Hannity to push conspiracy theories and falsehoods. He has often appeared in defense of President Trump and his policies.
During some of these appearances and writing in opinion pieces for right-wing media sites, Sekulow has promoted debunked and outright false statements about abortion and reproductive health.
Sekulow in 2016 railed against the Court’s decision in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, which halted some abortion restrictions in Texas, by adopting falsehoods pushed by anti-choice advocates in an opinion piece for Fox News’ website.
He claimed in the post that the Court had “missed a critical opportunity to protect women by ensuring abortion clinics implement common-sense safety standards.” But Justice Stephen Breyer spoke directly to this falsehood in his majority opinion on the case, explaining that “when directly asked at oral argument whether Texas knew of a single instance in which the new requirement would have helped even one woman obtain better treatment, Texas admitted that there was no evidence in the record of such a case” and that the provisions instead “constitute an undue burden on abortion access.”
The ACLJ had written an amicus brief for Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt supporting Texas’ clinic restrictions by falsely claiming that “Abortion is a procedure fraught with hazards.” However, according to the Guttmacher Institute, “A first-trimester abortion is one of the safest medical procedures and carries minimal risk—less than 0.05%—of major complications that might need hospital care.”
Sekulow and the ACLJ have been major opponents of the Affordable Care Act’s birth control benefit, using various court cases against it, including Little Sisters of the Poor, in its fundraising.
Appearing on Fox News’ Hannity in 2012, Sekulow compared the benefit to forcing the mandatory consumption of pork to those whose religion forbids it despite the fact that the Obama administration had already made accommodations to the benefit for churches. In the clip, Sekulow claims that conservative objections have nothing to do with abortion or contraception and are instead about religious liberty. But a post he penned for ACLJ in 2015 nevertheless falsely claims emergency contraception and the forms of birth control at issue in the Hobby Lobby case were a part of an “abortion-pill mandate,” despite the fact that birth control pills and emergency contraception do not cause an abortion.
Sekulow seemingly defended Trump ahead of the 2016 GOP primary election after the then-candidate suggested in March 2016 that those who have abortions should face “some form of punishment” should Roe v. Wade be overturned by the Supreme Court and the procedure be made illegal by some states. During a subsequent March 31 edition of his radio program, Sekulow agreed that women could face punishment in some places should abortion be made illegal.
Suggesting that should some laws, seemingly such as so-called personhood laws, be put in place to legally consider a fetus a person, Sekulow said, according to Right Wing Watch, that, legally, “a state could say anybody involved in the process [of an abortion] is committing a crime, if you believe it’s a person.”
“There’s a political question whether they should be,” he continued. “I think that’s a legitimate point. But the legal issue is not improbable.”
Later in the show when a co-host mentioned that Trump’s comments about punishing women gave him “heartburn,” Sekulow again went on the defense.
“You want to know why it gives everybody heartburn? I’m going to say it and this is going to be controversial,” said Sekulow. “You know why it really gives everybody heartburn? Here’s the real reason, and some of you are going to really disagree with this: because a lot of people really don’t believe the unborn child is a person.”
“Because if you really believe that the unborn child’s a person,” said Sekulow, “you would say, ‘If somebody voluntarily [had an abortion] for the purposes of birth control—which is generally what it is, it’s an inconvenience, not medically necessary, not life of the mother, not incest or rape—you think to yourself, ‘If it’s really a person, what’s so, what’s so’ …. [B]ut we aren’t there yet politically, and we’re not there maybe even legally or morally. And that may be shame on us in one sense.”
Though Sekulow seemingly didn’t join Trump’s personal legal team to work on the conservative issues he has built his career around, he no doubt at least has the president’s ear. In an administration already seeking to undercut access to reproductive health care at every turn, the addition of the Sekulow, a legal mind allied with radical anti-choice extremists, is yet more evidence of Trump’s willingness to welcome extremists into the fold.