Aurora Pro-Life Battle Heats Up on Good Friday

Pro-life students from Christian Liberty Academy

Pro-life students from Christian Liberty Academy at Planned Parenthood in Aurora, Illinois [Photo by Matt Yonke]

In the summer of 2007, Aurora, Illinois, became “Ground Zero” in the abortion battle as Pro-Life Action League rallied the local pro-life community to stop Planned Parenthood from opening what was at the time the nation’s largest abortion facility. The facility was constructed under the auspices of a front company and Planned Parenthood created a cloud of deception to keep the city government and the community in the dark about their plans.

During the ensuing controversy, the local pro-life movement exploded into an unprecedented force opposing the new facility. Though it did finally open, opposing Planned Parenthood’s flagship Aurora center has remained a top priority for the League. In conjunction with community churches—including recruitment talks by League Executive Director Eric Scheidler, most recently at St. Mary Church in Plano and Ss. Peter and Paul Church in Naperville—the League has kept consistent prayer, protest and counseling presence there.

This ongoing effort has generally been peaceful, with both the police and nearby community respecting pro-lifers’ rights. However, two recent incidents stand apart from that general trend.

Planned Parenthood Client Swerves at Pro-Life Teen

On February 16, a group of students from Christian Liberty Academy in Arlington Heights, Illinois, were praying and counseling along the roadway beside Planned Parenthood when a car that had just exited the parking lot swerved at a student named Hannah, coming within inches of striking her. Hannah had been trying to offer the occupants a piece of literature on post-abortion healing.

Aurora police were called and said the driver would be charged with reckless driving, but then the Illinois State’s Attorney’s office took the case over, upping the charges to aggravated assault.

Weeks later, the Chicago Sun-Times suddenly took an interest in this story, publishing articles claiming that the Aurora police and Illinois States Attorney are in conflict over whether any violation really occurred, pointing to an inconclusive video from Planned Parenthood’s surveillance camera. We suspect Planned Parenthood planted the story in an attempt to short-circuit the bad press of having a client found guilty of threatening a pro-life activist.

However, Hannah and six other eyewitnesses are ready to testify that the swerve was an intentional attempt to intimidate her and the other pro-lifers. Hannah and her family have bravely stood up under the pressure of this difficult situation, and the next hearing in the case is coming up in July.

Confusion on Good Friday

Way of the Cross at Planned Parenthood in Aurora, Illinois

Way of the Cross at Planned Parenthood in Aurora, Illinois [Photo by Matt Yonke]

Our generally positive relationship with the Aurora police was sorely tested during Holy Week. On Holy Tuesday, I was informed by one of our sidewalk counselors that “No Trespassing” signs had just been installed in the vacant lot across from Planned Parenthood where pro-lifers have been praying and counseling without incident for over five years.

Trying to get to the bottom of this development, I called the police commander with whom I meet quarterly under the terms of a 2010 Settlement Agreement the League had reached with the City of Aurora under federal court supervision. He told me that representatives from Safeway Corporation, which owns the vacant lot, had accompanied Planned Parenthood to a recent meeting with the police to see about enforcing their private property rights over the vacant lot. He hadn’t known that the “No Trespassing” signs had already been posted.

The timing couldn’t have been worse. One of our largest annual events—the annual Good Friday “Way of the Cross for Victims of Abortion”—was set to take place in just a few days. For five years, this walking prayer service had typically taken place both in the public right-of-way and on the vacant lot, without any complaint from Safeway. This year, we had no idea what to expect.

We arrived for the Good Friday event to find no fewer than six squad cars on site, as well as representatives of the various property owners of the shopping mall, including both Safeway and Planned Parenthood. Trouble seemed likely.

However, League Executive Director Eric Scheidler and I had already reorganized this year’s Way of the Cross to keep it entirely in the public right-of-way, eager to avoid an open conflict that might disrupt our daily sidewalk counseling effort. We also asked Thomas More Society attorney Peter Breen to be on hand. Peter talked with the police and other officials, urging them to respect the status quo which for years had worked so well.

Police Threaten Sidewalk Counselors

During the prayer service, the police made no effort to interrupt participants as they instinctively walked across the vacant lot going to and from the prayer service, and they ignored the sidewalk counselors on the roadway across from Planned Parenthood, which is technically Safeway’s property.

But then only minutes after Eric, Peter and I left, police officers approached the sidewalk counselors and threatened them with arrest if they did not leave Safeway’s property immediately. Several similar threats were made in the subsequent weeks.

The following days were a difficult search for the facts of the matter. Did Dominick’s have the right to kick us off their property? Could the police arrest pro-lifers for such an offense? What would we do if we couldn’t pray and counsel across from Planned Parenthood’s parking lot anymore?

It took six weeks of constant phone calls to police and city attorneys before they finally admitted Safeway does not have the right to eject pro-lifers from the roadway that runs between their vacant lot and Planned Parenthood. To do so would require the agreement of all the other property owners in the complex that share the roadway, and no such agreement currently exists. The police also admitted that under the terms of the Settlement Agreement, they should never have threatened pro-lifers with arrest for trespassing.

After weeks of uncertainty—in which many good people stayed home from the clinic for fear of arrest or just confusion about the rules—the status quo has been restored and the routine of prayer, counseling and protest has continued without incident.

League Remains Vigilant

There’s no doubt that Planned Parenthood is still scheming to eliminate our pro-life presence outside their building. Whatever pressure they brought to bear on Safeway to put up those “No Trespassing” signs they’re sure to keep exerting on Safeway and the other property owners at the shopping mall.

Meanwhile, the League will continue to appeal to these third parties to stay out of the conflict and leave our pro-life mission alone. We’ll remain vigilant, confident that if Planned Parenthood will go to such lengths to stop us, we must be doing something right.

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