Planned Parenthood’s Fight in Aurora

My grandmother watched her father die when an anti-Jewish mob broke into their small home and shot him as he lay in bed with his wife. The mob was jubilant and exuberant at his death; their neighborhood priest in Vilnius, Lithuania, led the crowd through the streets chanting a Te Deum to show their thanks to the Lord at the death of someone they considered a nonbeliever.


Most members of that crowd called themselves Christians. I think of them when I look at the mob in Aurora that is trying to keep the Planned Parenthood health center there from opening.


I have been working around these protesters and their associates for 20 years, trying to help women get through their ranks into clinics for medical appointments. On a recent stint at an obstetrics-gynecology health center under siege on the North Side of Chicago, I was trying to escort a woman with ovarian cancer through the horde so she could see her doctor.


Part of the crowd surrounded us, chanting “Christ killers!” and “Baby killers!” Briefly, I felt the fear my grandmother must have known.


The police were watching the demonstrators block the clinic but doing nothing to remove them from the entrance. After five minutes, they came to help the cancer patient escape her harassers and return to her car — weeping and trembling. There was no way she was going to get essential medical care that day.


After the police left, one of the protesters said to me, “I suppose since you think it’s OK to kill a fetus you agree that it’s OK if I kill you.”


This is ugly language, but no more hate-filled than the rest of the words and deeds of those angry people who want to keep women from getting reproductive health care.


Why are we allowing such mobs to decide who gets medical care in Aurora, or anywhere else in America?

Never mind that polls show Planned Parenthood is the most trusted provider of health care in America. The zealots surrounding the Planned Parenthood health center in Aurora have actually cowed the Aurora City Council into demanding a review of the city’s permit-granting process. A spokeswoman from the mayor’s office has said that a review of this kind has never been done before.


The foes of reproductive rights are concocting a story about Planned Parenthood operating deceptively because the group built the health center in the name of one of its wholly owned subsidiaries. Planned Parenthood did this because every time it tries to build a new facility, its opponents try to keep women from essential health care.


Four years ago in Austin, Texas, zealots intimidated Browning Construction into breaking a contract to build a new facility. The Planned Parenthood building was finished ultimately by contractors from out-of-state. A Colorado right-to-life group has just announced that it will use these same tactics to try to keep a new Planned Parenthood facility in Denver from opening.


According to the Aurora paper, the Beacon News, Aurora officials — including the mayor — agree that they knew as early as February that Planned Parenthood was likely building a health center in their town.


It was only when this mob descended on their town that they decided to act outside their normal protocols in approving this health center for opening.


Illinois ranks 42nd in the nation in helping women avoid unintended pregnancies, according to the Guttmacher Institute, which provides research and education on sexual and reproductive health. The institute says only 29 percent of our state’s “women in need” were provided “publicly supported family planning services” by clinics — and these are the women who need Planned Parenthood for safe, affordable care.


Aurora, with more than 276,000 residents, is the fastest-growing city in Illinois; but it has very few places where women can go for quality, affordable reproductive health care. The women of Aurora and surrounding Kane, DuPage, Kendall and Will Counties have been calling their new health center for appointments for the last six weeks.


Isn’t it time we turned our back on the mob and let women get the health care they need?




Chicago writer Sara Paretsky most recently wrote a book of essays titled “Writing in an Age of Silence” (Verso, 2007).

Leave a comment