SpeakOut Illinois 2014 faced the challenge of Chicago’s continuing severe winter, but over 350 pro-lifers were undaunted by it, as they gathered at the Crowne Plaza O’Hare on Saturday morning. The streets had not been plowed, nor had the hotel parking lot, but it would take more than an all night snow storm to discourage these folks.
Peter Breen, executive director of the Thomas More Society, serving as master of ceremonies, welcomed all and introduced Fr. Malek Rihani, of St. Mary’s Orthodox Church in Palos Heights, to light the traditional SpeakOut candle and open the day with prayer.
Four workshop panels were held concurrently, then repeated, so attendees had the opportunity to attend two workshops. All presentations were recorded, so they could purchase the ones they were not able to attend in person.
Breakout Sessions Educate on Current Issues
The Political Panel included Joe Walsh, Rev. Bob Vanden Bosch and Rep. Tom Morrison, who explained the challenges of politics in Illinois, but encouraged people to be engaged in the political process, supporting pro-life candidates and pro-life initiatives and holding their representatives accountable for the votes they cast.
Political panel at SpeakOut Illinois
The Obamacare panel featured Steven Tucker, and insurance expert and Dr. Barbara Bellar, a physician and licensed attorney who has also held public office. They pointed out some of the deceptions inherent in the Affordable Care Act and the promotion of it, as well as some of the dangers to be watchful for.
Abortion in the Hard Cases, featured Dr. Pam Smith, a physician who has cared for pregnant teens and women for many years and understands the pressures brought to bear on them to choose abortion, as well as the repercussions, both physical and psychological.
Jim Sable, who learned as an adult that he had been conceived in rape, and is an adopted person, shared his story and his admiration for his birth mother who had the courage to choose life. Lisa Youngblood, a victim of date rape and a rape drug, shared her story of discovering she was pregnant and choosing life for her baby.
League’s Eric Scheidler Speaks on Religious Freedom
The Religious Freedom panel consisted of Eric Scheidler, executive director of the Pro-Life Action League, giving the culture perspective of the attack on religious freedom from the HHS Mandate, as well as John Breen, law professor at Loyola University Chicago, who presented an overview of the law on freedom of religion in the U.S. Constitution and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and Rich Baker a Christian attorney who has represented individuals whose religious rights have been denied or abridged as society becomes increasingly hostile to believers.
Eric Scheidler speaks at the Religious Freedom Panel
Though some have expressed despair over the state of religious freedom in our country, in the question and answer portion of the panel, Eric was able to bring home the message that nobody has a crystal ball to determine the way the culture will turn in the future. Just because things seem dark at the moment does not mean the current course is inalterable.
In fact, that sort of deterministic despair is just what the devil wants us to believe—that there is no hope for our culture. But we know that the future is in God’s hands, and He can, and has, turned the future of cultures in ways nobody expected. Many attendees told Eric this message was of great encouragement to them.
Keynote from Shawn Carney and Awards Over Lunch
Following the workshops, attendees gathered in the Ballroom for lunch and the presentation of awards. Larry and Marge Theriault, long time pro-life warriors, received the Illinois Life Advocate Award, presented by Joe Scheidler.
Shawn Carney gives the keynote address
Shawn Carney, Campaign Director for 40 Days for Life received the Henry Hyde Life Leadership Award, presented by Kimberly Lee, a 40 Days for Life Coordinator in Downers Grove. It was by the grace of God that Shawn was even in Chicago for the event. His flight from Houston on Friday evening had been canceled due to mechanical difficulties. But, in spite of the all-night snow storm in Chicago, his Saturday morning flight made it on time. Shawn spoke of the miracles of timing and events that have become routine in his experience with 40 Days for Life and expressed his appreciation for the opportunity to participate in SpeakOut Illinois.
As always, the SpeakOut conference concluded with a Memorial Service for the Unborn. Four individuals representing different people affected by an unplanned pregnancy, each told their stories and lit a candle for those who find themselves in similar situations.
Brittany, a young woman who found help with her pregnancy at Aid for Women, talked about discovering she was pregnant, feeling completely alone, then learning that she was expecting twins and relying on her counselor at Aid for Women as she found the courage to choose life.
Mickey realized that she was in no position to raise a child when she discovered she was pregnant. Working with Bethany Christian Services, she chose adoption for her son, and told the moving story of making that choice.
Jim Sable thanked his birth mother for giving him the gift of life, saying, “I love a woman I have never meant, in whose womb I spend eight months.”
A woman who chose abortion when she saw no way to go forward with her pregnancy, testified to the power of God’s mercy in bringing her to accept His forgiveness.
Conference Closes with Memorial for the Unborn Victims of Abortion
Fr. Maina Waitchaka, pastor of St. Catherine Laboure parish in Glenview, prayed over each of those who testified, and invited the guests to raise their hands in blessing over them, as each lit a candle. Maria Goldstein, founder of Northwest Families for Life then lit a last candle for all the babies whose lives have been lost in abortion. All in attendance then lit candles at their tables and joined in singing, “Go Light Your World.”
The afternoon ended with a robust chorus of the Battle Hymn of the Republic, led by Joe Scheider.