The Bubble Economy
“Why,” Sheila Ramus asked, “if there are so many pro-lifers here, does Rockford have an abortion clinic?”
Sheila, my wife and I, and our pastor, Fr. Brian Bovee, were waiting to check in at Rockford’s annual Pro-Life Banquet. An hour before the dinner was scheduled to begin, the Holy Family Room (yes, that is its name) in the basement of Holy Family Parish was almost full. The crowd reflected not only the number of pro-lifers in Rockford but their composition. Nineteen priests and many prominent physicians, lawyers, and businessmen joined almost two hundred others to raise money for Rockford’s upcoming 40 Days for Life campaign. There were even a dozen or more politicians, though it was hard to get an accurate count because the Republicans all left early to attend the Lincoln Day Dinner, held nearly a month in advance of Lincoln’s birthday. (Is nothing sacred anymore?)
Sheila’s roots are in Rockford, but she has spent much of her life elsewhere. I explained that the local pro-life politicians themselves are part of the problem—once elected, not a single one of them has tried to shut down the euphemistically named Northern Illinois Women’s Clinic, housed in a former public school.
To be fair, their failure to act isn’t necessarily hypocrisy. Even those who are in a position to make life uncomfortable for the abortionist and his landlord, Wayne Webster (whose own child attended the school that Webster has turned into a chamber of horrors), lack the imagination to do so. During the 2001 mayoral election, I asked Denny Johnson, the pro-life Republican candidate, why he didn’t use his position on the board of directors of Rockford’s largest hospital to get the abortionist’s privileges revoked. Richard Ragsdale, now several years dead but then one of the most notorious abortionists in the country, didn’t perform abortions at SwedishAmerican, Johnson replied, so why revoke his privileges? (He didn’t suggest that Ragsdale’s privileges couldn’t be revoked; he simply couldn’t see what good it would do.)
Similarly, when I asked Johnson to pledge to use zoning restrictions to try to close down the abortuary, he admitted that the idea might work, but that he had never thought of it. Yet he refused to make such a pledge.
Politicians seem always at the ready to use the law to protect abortion, however. Just ten days after the Pro-Life Banquet, and within a few days of the 37th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Rockford Register Star reported that city attorney Jennifer Cacciapaglia had drafted a “bubble zone” ordinance that would make it illegal for the pro-lifers who pray at the abortuary every Wednesday and Friday (the two days that it is open) to come closer than 8 feet to any person who is within 100 feet of the entrance to Turner School. The ordinance was requested by Karen Elyea, the alderman in whose district the abortuary lies, ostensibly (the Register Star reported) as a response to “128 calls for service from police and 64 complaints filed at the clinic’s address in the past two years.”
The Rockford Pro-Life Initiative notes that the majority of those calls have not been made by mothers entering Turner School, or even by those who accompany them, but by pro-lifers filing complaints against a counterdemonstrator who spends his time harassing those gathered in prayer. (Most of the rest of the calls have been made by the counterdemonstrator.) Elyea told the Register Star that she is concerned about the “‘heated interaction’ between protesters and clinic staff and patients,” but the ordinance is likely to lead to greater tensions, as different people standing at different vantage points will disagree about whether the eight-foot “bubble zone” has been breached. And that will mean more calls to the police, not fewer.
Our current mayor, an independent, is a practicing Catholic, and I have heard him speak eloquently and movingly about his pro-life convictions. To his credit, Mayor Morrissey opposes the “bubble zone,” which will come before the Rockford City Council in a few weeks.
The real purpose of the ordinance is to prevent pro-lifers from handing out brochures on fetal development and alternatives to abortion, including material from the local pregnancy-care center, which has assisted many mothers who have decided to bring their children to term. During last Lent’s 40 Days for Life campaign, the weekly number of abortions fell by over 20 percent, and it continued to fall throughout the year.
If this year’s campaign were to result in a similar decrease, the abortuary might well have to close its doors forever. Undoubtedly, Alderman Elyea is concerned about the loss of a local business. But adding a few more folks to the ranks of Rockford’s unemployed would, in this case, be a very good thing.
This article first appeared in the March 2010 issue of Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture.