A law firm representing a Reno crisis pregnancy center sent a cease and desist letter threatening legal action against Democratic Attorney General candidate Aaron Ford, after he panned the anti-abortion nonprofit as a “fake women’s health center.”
In a letter sent Friday by an attorney for the Crisis Pregnancy Center in Reno, the group demanded Ford “immediately” cease and desist making false statements about the center, publish a retraction of a press release and social media posts and tour the center itself. The letter was sent by Jason Guinasso, an attorney with the law firm of Hutchison & Steffen, which hired Duncan after he left his job with the Nevada attorney general’s office last year.
It marks the first serious pushback by a Republican candidate to a favorite target of criticism for Nevada Democrats — crisis pregnancy centers, which provide counseling related to pregnancy and childbirth and are typically run by groups staunchly opposed to abortion. The centers have become a political lightning rod both nationwide and in Nevada political races, with pro-choice groups slamming them as “fake health-care clinics that lie to, shame and intentionally mislead women.”
The letter states that Ford’s referencing the center — prompted by Duncan’s visit last week — as a “fake women’s health center” was defamatory.
“By publishing false and defamatory statements on social media and your website with reckless disregard for the truth of your disparaging remarks, you have significantly harmed the Center’s reputation and its ability to fulfill its mission,” Guinasso wrote in the letter. “The Center’s ability to provide factual counseling and services to women in a judgement-free, sensitive and compassionate environment depends on its reputation in the community. By attacking the Center’s validity, you have callously and recklessly undermined the reputation of the Center and the trust it has earned over the last 30 years with its clients and donors.”
It also included statements from 49 board members, volunteers, staff and clients of the center, including one woman with a pseudonym who ultimately decided to proceed with an abortion.
Although the letter gave a Tuesday deadline before commencing with threatened legal action, Ford’s campaign manager, Peggy Yang, said in a statement that the candidate “will not be intimidated” from commenting on the issues.
“This is a frivolous political ploy from Wes Duncan’s law firm to silence Duncan’s critics so he doesn’t have to answer for supporting ‘women’s health centers’ that are known to spread false information and are a danger to women’s health,” Yang said in an email. “Duncan is trying to silence those who call out these ‘health centers’ for what they truly are.”
The campaign also provided a brief response letter from their legal counsel, attorney Bradley Schrager with the firm of Wolf, Rifkin, Shapiro, Schulman & Rabkin, that poured cold water on the threats of litigation.
“We do not credit your allegations in the least, and we have no fear whatsoever that you can make out a plausible claim that your client has been defamed in these circumstances,” he wrote.
Schrager also cited a reference to the section of state law dealing with the awarding of attorney’s fees on frivolous claims, warning that “filing frivolous actions for imagined political advantage has consequences.”
Such centers have become prime fodder for political attacks — Nevada Democrats similarly panned Duncan and gubernatorial candidate Adam Laxalt for making individual trips to a similar center in Las Vegas in February. And the issue was further inflamed in June, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on freedom of speech grounds that the state of California couldn’t require the centers to provide information or publicly post notices on how to obtain an abortion.
The court’s decision elicited a party-line reaction from Nevada political candidates, with Laxalt lauding the 5-4 ruling and Democratic candidate Steve Sisolak saying he was concerned that patients wouldn’t receive all necessary information.
Duncan, who describes himself as “pro-life,” also said in February that the Las Vegas-based First Choice Pregnancy Services had been “unfairly attacked” and should be “commended” for its work, after Democratic groups criticized his appearance there.
Ford has been endorsed by NARAL Pro-Choice Nevada, which called him a “proven champion for women and families across Nevada.”