Breaking News: Aurora, IL, Latest Battleground

Lynda Waddington

The construction of a new Planned Parenthood clinic in Aurora, Illinois, has been held up as the judge in the case rules against Planned Parenthood's claim of discrimination. But the fight isn't close to over.

*Breaking News: The judge in the case, moments ago, denied Planned Parenthood's motion, delaying the opening of the clinic, thus delaying the provision of quality, affordable health care for the residents of Aurora. The judge denied the motion on the grounds that Planned Parenthood did not have enough evidence – though did allow that PP could re-file if they were able to gather more evidence of discrimination. The city of Aurora is continuing their investigation into whether or not Planned Parenthood's permit application was legitimate.

Cecile Richards, President of Planned Parenthood, has this to say about today's ruling:

"Today's ruling is a major disappointment and will only serve to encourage the campaign of harassment and intimidation being waged by anti-choice extremists against health care providers and their patients nationwide. Planned Parenthood will pursue every legal option to ensure the residents of Aurora get the health care services they need as quickly as possible…City leaders must stop bowing to political pressure…"

For more information, visit the Aurora Planned Parenthood blog!

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There is a real potential for violence in Aurora, Illinois, as city government officials debate the legitimacy of a building permit application used to erect a Planned Parenthood facility. Instead of using the often-volatile name of Planned Parenthood, the group used the name of a subsidiary, Gemini Development Corp. The city gave approval for the building last November, and the facility is currently operating under a temporary occupancy permit.

The medical complex is scheduled to open Tuesday, although a delay is considered likely while the city continues its investigation. The facility will offer reproductive and women's health care services — 10 percent of which is expected to be abortions. Currently, women in the area needing an abortion are forced to travel to the north side of Chicago, roughly two hours away by car.

Members of the Aurora City Council met Sept. 11 to discuss the ongoing investigation into the city's rules for building permits. Bill Wiet, chief of staff for Mayor Tom Weisner, said that if the investigation shows laws have been followed, "the city will be obligated to issue a final occupancy permit."

Emotions have escalated since anti-choice groups began protesting the facility in mid-August. Eric Scheidler, spokesman for Chicago's Pro-Life Action League and affiliated with Fox Valley Families Against Planned Parenthood, has been heading up the protests against the clinic. On Aug. 30, he raised the stakes a notch by informing The Daily Herald that protesters were no longer interested in just the facility.

"If you're going to be involved in a business as shameful as Planned Parenthood… one of the consequences of that is that your neighbors will know you're working for an abortion clinic," he said.

When asked how he and the protesters will know who is employed by the clinic, he said, "We'll deal with that when (it opens)."

Such remarks prompted Michael Walsh of Aurora to submit a letter to the editor of the Beacon News.

"Is it true that Scheidler… believes it is acceptable to picket the homes of employees working for the new clinic?" he wrote. "What moral compass is this gentleman using that would lead him to this conclusion? These individuals are not breaking any laws, nor should they be subject to this type of harassment simply because their career choice is not in line with another person's views, or in this case those of the Pro-Life Action League."

While most protests and rallies have been conducted by anti-abortion activists, Planned Parenthood supporters also stood and held up signs and presented their thoughts at the latest council meeting.

For the most part, the protests and rallies have been peaceful. Both Planned Parenthood and the anti-abortion groups involved, however, say protests of this intensity and size haven't been seen since the 1990s, when Operation Rescue toured the nation, blocked access to clinics, and threatened clinic staff and patients.

It is yet to be seen if the call issued today by eastern Illinois religious leaders to spend Sunday as a day of prayer in support of Planned Parenthood will lessen or intensify the debate surrounding the facility.

"To deny women access to, and choice about, abortion, to contraceptives, to sexual education, is essentially to deny them their moral standing," said the Rev. Larry Greenfield, executive minister of the American Baptist Churches of Metro Chicago. "To deny somebody choice is contrary to what I believe to be the teachings of Jesus."

News Law and Policy

Anti-Choice Group: End Clinic ‘Bubble Zones’ for Chicago Abortion Patients

Michelle D. Anderson

Chicago officials in October 2009 passed the "bubble zone" ordinance with nearly two-thirds of the city aldermen in support.

An anti-choice group has announced plans to file a lawsuit and launch a public protest over Chicago’s nearly seven-year-old “bubble zone” ordinance for patients seeking care at local abortion clinics.

The Pro-Life Action League, an anti-choice group based in Chicago, announced on its website that its lawyers at the Thomas More Society would file the lawsuit this week.

City officials in October 2009 passed the ordinance with nearly two-thirds of the city aldermen in support. The law makes it illegal to come within eight feet of someone walking toward an abortion clinic once that person is within 50 feet of the entrance, if the person did not give their consent.

Those found violating the ordinance could be fined up to $500.

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Harassment of people seeking abortion care has been well documented. A 2013 survey from the National Abortion Federation found that 92 percent of providers had a patient entering their facility express personal safety concerns.

The ordinance targets people seeking to pass a leaflet or handbill or engaging in “oral protest, education, or counseling with such other person in the public way.” The regulation bans the use of force, threat of force and physical obstruction to intentionally injure, intimidate or interfere any person entering or leaving any hospital, medical clinic or health-care facility.

The Pro-Life Action League lamented on its website that the law makes it difficult for anti-choice sidewalk counselors “to reach abortion-bound mothers.” The group suggested that lawmakers created the ordinance to create confusion and that police have repeatedly violated counselors’ First Amendment rights.

“Chicago police have been misapplying it from Day One, and it’s caused endless problems for our faithful sidewalk counselors,” the group said.

The League said it would protest and hold a press conference outside of the Planned Parenthood clinic in the city’s Old Town neighborhood.

Julie Lynn, a Planned Parenthood of Illinois spokesperson, told Rewire in an email that the health-care provider is preparing for the protest.

“We plan to have volunteer escorts at the health center to make sure all patients have safe access to the entrance,” Lynn said.

The anti-choice group has suggested that its lawsuit would be successful because of a 2014 U.S. Supreme Court decision that ruled a similar law in Massachusetts unconstitutional.

Pam Sutherland, vice president of public policy and education for Planned Parenthood of Illinois, told the Chicago Tribune back then that the health-care provider expected the city’s bubble zone to be challenged following the 2014 decision.

But in an effort to avoid legal challenges, Chicago city officials had based its bubble zone law on a Colorado law that created an eight-foot no-approach zone within 100 feet of all health-care facilities, according to the Tribune. Sidewalk counselor Leila Hill and others challenged that Colorado law, but the U.S. Supreme Court upheld it in 2000.

News Health Systems

The Crackdown on L.A.’s Fake Clinics Is Working

Nicole Knight

"Why did we take those steps? Because every day is a day where some number of women could potentially be misinformed about [their] reproductive options," Feuer said. "And therefore every day is a day that a woman's health could be jeopardized."

Three Los Angeles area fake clinics, which were warned last month they were breaking a new state reproductive transparency law, are now in compliance, the city attorney announced Thursday.

Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer said in a press briefing that two of the fake clinics, also known as crisis pregnancy centers, began complying with the law after his office issued notices of violation last month. But it wasn’t until this week, when Feuer’s office threatened court action against the third facility, that it agreed to display the reproductive health information that the law requires.

“Why did we take those steps? Because every day is a day where some number of women could potentially be misinformed about [their] reproductive options,” Feuer said. “And therefore every day is a day that a woman’s health could be jeopardized.”

The facilities, two unlicensed and one licensed fake clinic, are Harbor Pregnancy Help CenterLos Angeles Pregnancy Services, and Pregnancy Counseling Center.

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Feuer said the lawsuit could have carried fines of up to $2,500 each day the facility continued to break the law.

The Reproductive Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care, and Transparency (FACT) Act requires the state’s licensed pregnancy-related centers to display a brief statement with a number to call for access to free and low-cost birth control and abortion care. Unlicensed centers must disclose that they are not medical facilities.

Feuer’s office in May launched a campaign to crack down on violators of the law. His action marked a sharp contrast to some jurisdictions, which are reportedly taking a wait-and-see approach as fake clinics’ challenges to the law wind through the courts.

Federal and state courts have denied requests to temporarily block the law, although appeals are pending before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

Some 25 fake clinics operate in Los Angeles County, according to a representative of NARAL Pro-Choice California, though firm numbers are hard to come by. Feuer initially issued notices to six Los Angeles area fake clinics in May. Following an investigation, his office warned three clinics last month that they’re breaking the law.

Those three clinics are now complying, Feuer told reporters Thursday. Feuer said his office is still determining whether another fake clinic, Avenues Pregnancy Clinic, is complying with the law.

Fake clinic owners and staffers have slammed the FACT Act, saying they’d rather shut down than refer clients to services they find “morally and ethically objectionable.”

“If you’re a pro-life organization, you’re offering free healthcare to women so the women have a choice other than abortion,” said Matt Bowman, senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, which represents several Los Angeles fake clinics fighting the law in court.

Asked why the clinics have agreed to comply, Bowman reiterated an earlier statement, saying the FACT Act violates his clients’ free speech rights. Forcing faith-based clinics to “communicate messages or promote ideas they disagree with, especially on life-and-death issues like abortion,” violates their “core beliefs,” Bowman said.

Reports of deceit by 91 percent of fake clinics surveyed by NARAL Pro-Choice California helped spur the passage of the FACT Act last October. Until recently, Googling “abortion clinic” might turn up results for a fake clinic that discourages abortion care.

“Put yourself in the position of a young woman who is going to one of these centers … and she comes into this center and she is less than fully informed … of what her choices are,” Feuer said Thursday. “In that state of mind, is she going to make the kind of choice that you’d want your loved one to make?

Rewire last month visited Lost Angeles area fake clinics that are abiding by the FACT Act. Claris Health in West Los Angeles includes the reproductive notice with patient intake forms, while Open Arms Pregnancy Center in the San Fernando Valley has posted the notice in the waiting room.

“To us, it’s a non-issue,” Debi Harvey, the center’s executive director, told Rewire. “We don’t provide abortion, we’re an abortion-alternative organization, we’re very clear on that. But we educate on all options.”

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