League group at “Catholics at the Capitol” in Springfield March 4 [Photo by Fr. Jim Heyd]
This spring, the Pro-Life Action League played a central role in a successful campaign to defeat one of the most pernicious pro-abortion bills in the nation. The League rallied a coalition of pro-life groups across Illinois to fight what we dubbed the “Illinois FOCA” bill, a reference to the federal Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA) which went down in flames early on in the Obama administration.
Pro-Abortion Forces Target Illinois
During the presidential campaign, Barack Obama vowed to Planned Parenthood that his first act in office would be to sign the FOCA, a pro-abortion bill designed to sweep away all restrictions on abortion throughout the United States and establish abortion as a fundamental right, even if the Supreme Court were to overturn Roe v. Wade.
Thanks to a nationwide postcard campaign launched by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops only days after Obama was inaugurated, FOCA was quickly abandoned and abortion advocates began looking for other ways to expand abortion. They soon targeted the state of Illinois, where the Pro-Life Action League is headquartered.
On February 18, Representative Barbara Flynn Currie introduced HB2354, the “Reproductive Health and Access Act,” an Illinois bill that would have legally established Illinois as one of the most pro-abortion states by:
- Eliminating all restrictions on abortion permanently—even if Roe v. Wade were overturned
- Mandating Planned Parenthood-style sex-ed programs in all public schools
- Requiring taxpayers to fund thousands of abortions through Medicaid
- Forcing medical professionals to cooperate with abortion and other objectionable practices
League Leads the Fight against HB2354
The Pro-Life Action League had already begun to fight Illinois FOCA a week before it was introduced. Planned Parenthood, a major force behind the bill, had scheduled a “community forum” for February 11 at the Eola Community Center in Aurora, Illinois, near their massive abortuary, to promote the upcoming bill.
The League loudly announced our intention to protest the community forum and send pro-life community members inside to participate in it. Planned Parenthood promptly changed the “forum” into a private meeting, barring members of the community. Our protest group that evening outnumbered the attendees three to one, and we reached hundreds of our neighbors with flyers on the bill.
Two Planned Parenthood “letter writing” meetings at a coffee shop in Rock Island were similarly scuttled by the League, thanks to League staffer Corrina Gura and her pro-life contacts in the Quad Cities. A February 15 meeting was cancelled, and a February 25 meeting had scant attendance. The only letter actually printed because of Planned Parenthood’s campaign was penned by Quad City Right to Life president Lorrie Bowman.
Pro-lifers had easily defeated a nearly identical bill last year, so it was clear that Planned Parenthood was determined to throw everything they had into promoting Illinois FOCA. But so far, the pro-life side was coming out on top.
Battle over Illinois FOCA Heats Up
League protests Planned Parenthood gala at the Ritz Carlton, March 6 [Photo by Sam Scheidler]
On March 3, I sent out an e-mail blast, alerting League members in Illinois to call their state representatives and tell them to vote NO on HB2354-especially those on the Human Services Committee, which would have to approve the bill. Meanwhile, John-Paul Deddens of Students for Life of Illinois began circulating a petition against the bill, which was later incorporated into a website I set up for the fight, StopIllinoisFOCA.com, with over 7,000 signers.
Providentially, just as the pro-abortion lobby’s determination to pass HB2354 was becoming clear, came a special event planned months in advance at the state capital of Springfield. On March 4, thousands of citizens from Catholic parishes and schools throughout the state attended “Catholics at the Capitol,” a lobbying day on issues important to them. HB2354 became the focus of the day. And hundreds of citizens got their first taste of lobbying, which they brought back to their home districts.
I had the opportunity to meet with my own representative, Linda Chapa-LaVia, who had been known as a reliable pro-choice vote in the past, but who was now calling herself pro-life. She praised my work fighting Planned Parenthood in Aurora and said she would not be supporting HB2354.
On March 6 the League was back out on the street protesting a Planned Parenthood gala at the Ritz Carlton on Chicago’s swanky Magnificent Mile. The event, billed as a celebration of Roe v. Wade, became an opportunity for Chicago’s foremost abortion boosters to rally behind Illinois FOCA. Fifty pro-lifers turned out to rain on Planned Parenthood’s parade and pass out hundreds of flyers on HB2354.
Committee Passes Illinois FOCA
The battle over Illinois FOCA turned red hot on March 11, when the Human Services Committee unexpectedly approved the bill. Pro-life lobbyist Ralph Rivera of Illinois Citizens for Life was stunned by this turn of events. He was certain the pro-aborts did not have the votes in the House to pass the bill, which typically would mean it would be deliberately stalled in committee.
I immediately sent out an e-mail blast across Illinois, urging pro-lifers to call their state reps again to oppose HB2354. I also scheduled a conference call of Illinois pro-life leaders March 16. On March 15, I launched StopIllinoisFOCA.com, with state representative contact information, the petition, downloadable flyers, regular updates and careful analysis of HB2354 by pro-lifer leaders like Mary-Louise Kurey of the Archdiocese of Chicago Respect Life Office and Peter Breen of the Thomas More Society.
Peter and Mary-Louise were among the many Illinois pro-life leaders on the League’s conference call March 16. We began with an overview of the legislation by Ralph Rivera, with help from fellow pro-life lobbyist Bob Vandenbosch and Zach Wichmann, legislative liaison for the Catholic Conference of Illinois. Mary-Louise then focused on the key problems with the bill that would resonate with legislators: HB2354 would strike down parental notification, mandate comprehensive “condom training” sex ed and force taxpayers to pay for abortions.
These were the points we would nail home. It was deemed best not to emphasize the health care providers’ conscience issue, lest the bill be amended on that sole issue in an effort to secure passage. This proved a wise strategy.
We concluded by committing to pool our resources—mailings lists, phone lists, websites, e-mail newsletters and stalwart volunteers—in a huge campaign to fight Illinois FOCA.
Illinois Pro-Life Groups Unite
As church leaders across the state lined up in opposition to HB2354, led by Cardinal Francis George of the Archdiocese of Chicago, pro-life and pro-family groups throughout the state launched an unprecedented campaign of automated phone calls to pro-lifers, letters and e-mails to legislators, visits to their offices in Springfield and back in their districts, radio alerts and even grassroots protests.
On March 30 a group from Holy Cross parish in Batavia organized by Dan Wurtz and Julie Van Domelen held a prayer vigil and protest at the Yorkville office of pro-choice Rep. Kay Hatcher. On March 31, over 200 pro-lifers turned out for a protest at the Woodstock office of HB2354 co-sponsor Rep. Jack Franks.
I worked to get the word out through local and national media, including interviews with Steve Hiller on WMBI and Charlie Butts on American Family Radio. I also alerted pro-life leaders across the country to the fight going on in Illinois.
Pro-Life Campaign Begins to Win the Day
The impact of this massive pro-life campaign was quickly evident. Sponsors began dropping off the bill. Then the pro-abortion forces stepped up their own lobbying efforts, and a few new sponsors were added. But the pro-abortion lobbyists in Springfield had to admit our side was outnumbering their calls by an overwhelming margin.
The desperation of the pro-abortion side became clear on March 25, when a pro-lifer named Emily—who knew all about HB2354 through her work at a pregnancy center—got a call from Planned Parenthood. The caller claimed that HB2354 was really all about “women’s health care” and “adoption” and asked her to call her representative in support of the bill. Emily hung up and phoned to tell me about the deceptive call, which I revealed on the StopIllinoisFOCA.com website.
Then on March 31—just as we had expected—the bill’s sponsors sought an amendment that slightly altered the language on health care providers’ conscience rights. It wasn’t even enough to persuade the doctors’ lobbying group—who were not with us on the pro-life issues—to drop their opposition.
By the first of April, it was looking like the bill would be shelved for the year. But we kept the phone calls coming all the way to the April 3 deadline, when the legislative session would close.
On April 2, Rep. Sara Feigenholtz, a major sponsor of the bill, admitted in an e-mail to a pro-life activist that it would not be coming to the floor because the Democratic leadership knew they lacked the votes. On the April 3 deadline, Zach Wichmann confirmed in a message to pro-life leaders that the bill had been defeated—for now.
A Great Pro-Life Victory
The defeat of Illinois FOCA was celebrated throughout the state and across the country. In the weeks following, I shared the story of our success with pro-life leaders at meetings in Washington, D.C. and a national pro-life conference call. We had shown what the pro-life movement can do, even in the face of powerful, emboldened pro-abortion opposition. And now we stand ready for the next battle in Illinois and across the country.