Abortion rights groups protest crisis pregnancy center in McHenry

Protests aim to raise awareness of the anti-abortion movement in McHenry County

Abortion rights protesters outside crisis pregnancy center Focus Women's Center in McHenry on Oct. 28, 2023.

A group of people stood outside a pregnancy center along Route 31 with picket signs that read “beware of fake clinics” and “women’s rights are human rights” Saturday morning in McHenry. Many cars honked as they passed by.

“I love hearing those,” McHenry County National Organization for Women President Dee Darling said.

More than 30 members of the McHenry County NOW, McHenry County Citizens for Choice, Reproductive Transparency Now and the Illinois NOW were protesting Focus Women’s Center, the anti-abortion crisis pregnancy center in McHenry.

The protesters chanted phrases such as “Abortions, we need them. Abortion is freedom” and “Get up. Get down. McHenry is a pro-choice town.”

Reproduction Transparency Now’s main objective is to raise awareness on crisis pregnancy centers. Clients could make an appointment for guidance or an abortion and not realize the hidden agenda the centers have, Reproduction Transparency Now President Lisa Battisfore said.

“Crisis pregnancy centers are basically the tentacles of the anti-abortion movement. They are in our communities all across the country on a daily basis, creating shame, stigma and confusion for people who are in some of the most vulnerable positions in their life.”

Focus Women’s Center, at 409 N. Front St. in McHenry, provides free services such as pregnancy testing, ultrasounds and testing for sexually transmitted diseases. The center does not provide abortions or referrals for abortions.

“You are free to choose a clinic that best meets your needs,” according to a statement on its website. “Focus Women’s Center does not profit from your decision and provides all of our services at no cost to you so that there are no barriers between you and the information you need.”

Focus Women’s Center staff declined to comment for this story.

Almost 100 crisis pregnancy centers are in Illinois, according to crisispregnancycentermap.com. Other locations in McHenry County on the site include 1st Way Life Center in Johnsburg and Informed Choices in Crystal Lake.

Darling said clinics should offer factual and unbiased information, especially to vulnerable people going through an unplanned pregnancy.

“We need actual health care providers,” she said. “It’s health care.”

Protester Susan Labag said speaking out against crisis pregnancy centers is fundamental for consumer protection, especially when patients are in need of timely medical intervention.

“The problem is false advertising,” she said.

Maria Peterson, a Democratic candidate for the Illinois 52nd House District, and Qasim Rashid, a candidate in the Illinois’ 11th Congressional District Democratic primary, attended the protest in support of those gathered.

An amendment to the Illinois Health Care Right of Conscience Act was passed in 2016 that ensures patients receive information on all treatment options, no matter what religious beliefs a medical provider may have.

“All health care facilities shall adopt written access to care and information protocols that are designed to ensure that conscience-based objections do not cause impairment of patients’ health and that explain how conscience-based objections will be addressed in a timely manner to facilitate patient health care services,” according to the amendment.

The amendment is being blocked in federal court by anti-abortion groups that represent Focus Women’s Center. Their lawsuit claims the amendment is unconstitutional.

“We are faith-based and that informs everything that we do,” Women’s Help Services Executive Director Judy Cocks said at the trial.

Crisis pregnancy centers have been around for years, but have gained more attention after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last year, McHenry County Citizens for Choice President Mary Ewert said.

“It’s never done,” she said. “It’s up to each generation to keep up the struggle.”