Anti-abortion activists send message to aldermen
News and notes from the Feb. 1 Rockford City Council meeting
By Stuart R. Wahlin
A proposed “bubble zone” ordinance that would require demonstrators within 100 feet of an abortion clinic entrance, or that of any other medical facility, to remain at least 8 feet from vehicles and individuals entering and exiting the property resulted in an overflow crowd of anti-abortion protesters at City Hall Feb. 1.
Council chambers were filled with activists, many of whom wore red tape over their mouths, on which the word “life” was written.
The ordinance was proposed by Ald. Karen Elyea (D-11), who owns a business, where she also resides, one block away from the Northern Illinois Women’s Center, 1400 Broadway. Elyea has indicated the measure would ensure the safety of those on both sides of the abortion debate. (See “Committee delays action on proposed abortion ‘bubble’ ordinance” in the Jan. 27-Feb. 2 issue).
During public comments, anti-abortion activist Kevin Rilott spoke out against the proposed legislation.
“We totally and completely oppose this infringement on the free speech rights of the citizens of Rockford,” Rilott asserted.
In years past, he explained, the clinic performed 50-75 abortions per week. He reported the number of abortions has been reduced to 20-25 per week in the last two years, attributing the lower rate to the work of “sidewalk counselors” who offer pregnant women alternatives to abortion.
“We believe this bubble zone is an attempt to counteract that, because they’re losing business,” Rilott alleged, arguing the buffer zone is not needed. “We’ve checked with the Rockford Police Department and the city attorney’s office, looking for complaints against the sidewalk counselors who are there offering information to mothers going in. … There is not one single complaint against a sidewalk counselor.”
He indicated there were 164 complaints lodged by anti-abortion demonstrators because of signs they felt were offensive displayed in the clinic windows.
“The city has looked at them and said, ‘That’s free speech,’” Rilott noted. “All we want is the same right to free speech, to offer women in a difficult situation another choice.”
Rilott noted one of his colleagues talked two women out of abortions the week prior.
“If this bubble zone was in place, there’s a very good chance that both of these babies in their mother’s womb would be dead right now,” he said. “This is not only a free speech issue, but it is a life and death issue also.”
Rilott acknowledged noise can be a problem outside the clinic at times, but attributed that solely to the building owner’s sound system, not to the shouting of protesters. Neighbors of the clinic, however, have complained about the noise caused by the activists.
Rilott implored aldermen, “Shouldn’t we simply be allowed to offer a brochure and a word of encouragement and help to a mother entering this clinic?”
Abby Figi, a fellow anti-abortion activist, also addressed the council regarding the proposed bubble ordinance.
“Many times we watch women go weeping into the abortion facility, because they are already filled with regret and remorse about the decision they are about to make,” she reported. “The pro-lifers are there as their very last hope, their very last true choice before making a heartbreaking and permanent decision to end the life of their baby. We offer them resources they need—free medical care, information about the [Rockford Area] Pregnancy Care Center and the maternity house.”
On average, Figi indicated, five pregnant women are talked out of abortions at the clinic each month by sidewalk counselors.
Figi introduced council members to a young mother who chose not to follow through with an abortion after sidewalk counselors intervened. Had they not been able to approach the pregnant woman on the public sidewalk, Figi said, her baby would not be alive today.
“I can assure you, if you pass this infringement on our free speech rights, not one life will be saved,” she concluded. “But I can assure you that many, many lives will be lost. Are you personally willing to go to bed each Wednesday and Friday night knowing that that morning a mother in her most desperate moment couldn’t get the help that she needed, or that a baby died that could have been spared?”
The proposed measure was laid over in a committee until Feb. 8 so that aldermen can acquire more information about similar legislation in other communities.
The council gave final approval to an amendment that will apply fines for false medical alarms, often attributed to senior living centers. Four false alarms per year from such facilities will be forgiven by the Fire Department before a $100 fine is applied to each subsequent incident.
Aldermen also approved a contract with Chicago, Central and Pacific Railroad Company for the purchase of land along South Main Street for $1.
• Rejecting bids opened Dec. 23, 2009, for snow plowing equipment and operators. Rabine Paving was originally awarded the contract in October 2009, but the lowest bidder, Palka Trucking, took the issue to court after being passed over for the award. In early December, Judge Edward Prochaska issued a restraining order preventing the city from entering into an agreement, not realizing the contract had already been awarded. Meantime, the city was forced to request new bids, until Prochaska was made aware that Rabine had already been awarded its bid.
• Awarding an energy investment audit agreement to Siemens Building Technologies, based in Switzerland, to conduct a comprehensive energy use and savings analysis of city buildings. Under the agreement, the city is required to reimburse Siemens up to $19,500 if the company’s recommendations are not heeded.
• Recommending an extension of a contract for the sale of city property to June 30. In July, aldermen approved the $295,601 sale of 1.6 acres at 1225 Charles St. to William Charles Real Estate Investments.
• Approving the purchase of a 2010 Ford Expedition, using grant dollars, in the amount of $27,084.
• Approving the purchase of 10 2010 Ford Crown Victoria squad cars for the Police Department. The total purchase price of $215,889 is payable through grant funds.
• Renewing a central exchange service agreement with AT&T for three years at a cost of $441,210.27.
• Recommending the city create and execute an intergovernmental agreement with the Winnebago County Highway Department for traffic signal maintenance and operation.
• Releasing a lien on property commonly known as the East Side Center.
Pastor Kenneth Copeland was appointed to replace Gwyn Gulley on the Airport Authority Board. Because Gulley’s term ended in 2007, Copeland’s five-year term will expire in May 2012.
Aldermen convened in closed session to discuss collective bargaining negotiations and pending litigation.
The week of Feb. 1 was proclaimed Rockford Noon Lions Club Week.
Aldermen Frank Beach (R-10), Linda McNeely (D-13) and Ann Thompson-Kelly (D-7) were absent.
From the Feb. 3-9, 2010 issue.
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