Rebecca Wooley said she decided to join an abortion rights protest Friday afternoon in Crystal Lake “because I need to be around like-minded people right now.”
The 47-year-old McHenry woman was among about 150 people gathered Friday afternoon along Route 14 in Crystal Lake to protest the Supreme Court’s decision, released that morning, overturning Roe v. Wade, a precedent that has stood for almost 50 years.
The reaction in McHenry County was mixed, with some heralding the decision and others such as Wooley frustrated by its implications.
“It is a sad state of affairs when guns have more rights than [women], when they say we can’t have the rights to own weapons taken away or a change in culture about guns because of the Constitution, but they can take rights away from women without thinking about the consequences,” Wooley said.
Some McHenry County religious and anti-abortion group leaders, meanwhile, praised the court’s decision.
“We think it was the right decision. We are happy it was finally reversed,” said Judy Cocks, director of the 1st Way Life Center in Johnsburg. “But that doesn’t mean abortion is going away in this state.”
The nonprofit 1st Way Life Center offers pregnancy resources, providing education and material resources for women during all stages of child development. Cocks estimated that 7% to 10% of the mothers the center served would have chosen abortions without the support it provides.
Cocks criticized Gov. JB Pritzker for “doubling down” on what she described as “a safe haven for abortion,” a status that she said runs counter to opinions in areas such as Johnsburg.
Almost 10,000 abortion patients in Illinois come from out of state, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health. Planned Parenthood of Illinois spokeswoman Mary Jane Maharry told the Northwest Herald that that level could rise by two to five times if Roe was overturned.
More than a dozen states, including Kentucky and Missouri, have trigger laws on the books that would ban abortion with the overturning of Roe. Iowa has a ban on abortion starting at six weeks, and Wisconsin has an unenforced law restricting abortion that predates Roe.
Illinois Right to Life Executive Director Amy Gehrke, who said she was “overjoyed” by Friday morning’s announcement, warned of “abortion mega-clinics” in Illinois and that from a pro-life perspective, “things are going to get worse in Illinois before we get better.”
Right to Life Illinois traveled to Huntley last week as part of a state tour meeting with residents about what overturning Roe v. Wade might mean for Illinois, Gehrke said.
“Our goal is to get our state to a point where commonsense restrictions on abortion and protection for women are restored and to get Illinois back to pro-life roots,” Gehrke said, adding that she is optimistic the state Legislature might rethink last year’s law that ended parental notification requirements for those seeking abortions.
Cocks predicted that more pregnancy centers might open in Illinois now that anti-abortion groups are “energized.”
On the other side of the issue, McHenry County Board member Paula Yensen, who also is president of the McHenry County chapter of the National Organization for Women, said that for her, “the good fight is not over,” and she would continue to advocate for reproductive rights at both the local and state level.
“Illinois, and our community, is going to be an important player in working with surrounding states,” Yensen said. “I think people are already making plans about what they’re going to be doing and how to continue to help people who are in need.”
Yensen said she remembers what life was like before Roe.
“Many of us have fought for a woman’s right to choose for a long time, and here we are,” she said. “I think this is the worst day for women in this country I’ve ever lived through.”
Kay Hebum said she was 30 years old when Roe first was decided. The 80-year-old Grayslake resident called the decision “absolutely horrible” and said that although she never needed to use abortion services, she believed it was a right even before the 1973 ruling.
“To take away this right is absolutely obscene,” she said.
McHenry County Board member Kelli Wegener, who said she was “upset” but “sadly not surprised” by the decision, said she plans on looking into Title X service grant funding for family planning and health care at the county level. She said McHenry County was one of six counties in Illinois to not take the funding.
Roe v. Wade wasn’t just about abortion rights when it was issued in 1973, Northern Illinois University associate professor Kathryn Cady said. It coincided with a societal evolution that saw women’s status shift in the home and workplace.
“When Roe v. Wade was upheld in a 7-2 decision, women’s position in the labor force, their earning power, their ability to have a career and to be breadwinners, it has really kind of incredibly expanded in the last 50 years,” said Cady, whose specialties include feminist theory and critical and cultural studies. “That is not entirely because of the right to have an abortion, but that certainly plays a role.”
With women’s roles and responsibilities expanding outside of the home, legalized abortion also meant greater access to reproductive health care for women from varying demographic and socioeconomic backgrounds, Cady said. That also gave way to family planning with room for a professional role and increased household income.
“Restrictions on women’s rights to abortion disproportionately harm women with more limited financial means,” said Cady, who added that she personally believes it’s a woman’s right to have an abortion.
Several local church leaders spoke out in favor of the decision; the Vatican praised the Supreme Court’s ruling Friday afternoon.
“This is a victory for life,” the Rev. Jeremy Trowbridge of Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic Church in Cary wrote in a Facebook post Friday afternoon.
Leaders of the Evangelical Free Church of Crystal Lake said in a statement that they were “very encouraged by the decision.”
“[W]e have great compassion for all women, especially unwed mothers,” the church said in the statement. “We are a strong pro-life congregation and believe the Bible is clear that unborn children are fully human and deserve to be protected.”
However, the local religious reaction was not universally in favor of abortion restrictions.
Rabbi Margaret Frisch Klein of Elgin’s Congregation Kneseth Israel said it was a “sad day” in the U.S. While the rabbi spoke as an individual, Klein said she thought there was consensus among American Jews in favor of abortion rights.
“Jews tend not to agree on very much, but when 83% of American Jews agree that women should have autonomy, that’s a huge mandate,” Klein said, citing a 2014 Pew Research poll.
On the record
The Northwest Herald visited the downtown Metra station in Crystal Lake on Friday afternoon to ask train riders their thoughts on the decision. Here’s what some had to say:
“From a woman who had to see a fertility doctor to get pregnant, there are so many forms of birth control available – adoption should be first,” said Amy Mahon, 53, of Lake in the Hills. She added a caveat that if the life of the mother is threatened, or if the fetus has “so many problems,” abortion should still be an option.
Her friend, Marvin Richardson, 57, described himself as “pro-choice” and said “it depends on the situation, but I think, personally, a woman has a right to her body.”
A Kankakee woman who works with vulnerable populations, Aubrey St. John, 23, said she thought that in Illinois women likely will still be able to receive abortion services, but that’s not the case for women in some other states.
Lower-wage earners such as the people she works with “don’t have the means to travel to other states that wealthy women do,” she said.
Her sister, Autumn St. John, 19, of Round Lake, said birth control availability also is guaranteed, women should have the right to end a pregnancy.
Hearing that the Supreme Court overturned Roe was disappointing, said Alyssa Gaede of Crystal Lake, 25. She had just returned from a work event in Chicago and had heard the announcement while she was there.
“It just seems so outdated,” she said of the decision. “I feel like I want to cry, but I also want to help. The fight is not over yet.”