There is the Illinois Choice Action Team wearing vests with “ICAT Clinic Escort” printed in bold letters. They are volunteers with Peorians for Reproductive Health Care, and they stand in rain, snow, heat and freezing temperatures waving at drivers they see searching for the correct location for National Health Care, 7405 N. University St., Peoria’s oldest abortion clinic. These drivers are easy to spot: they look worried, concerned and upset.
The other group holds signs “Pregnant?” “Need Help?” “Free.” They also stand along the road in rain, snow, heat and freezing temperatures, and they also find these drivers easy to spot. They try to encourage these women to enter the parking lot for Women’s Care Center, 7319 N. University St., an anti-choice clinic that opened next door in May 2013. The center offers free sonograms and counseling to encourage women to skip their appointments at National Health Care and change their minds about having an abortion.
“I would not have a problem with the Women’s Care Center if they had not opened right next to the clinic just to confuse and misinform patients. That’s steeped in dishonesty,” said Rosalie Howell, one of the organizers of the clinic escorts. “Abortion is legal and safe. Access to abortion is being threatened.”
Rather than praying to end abortion, she said we should all be trying to end the circumstances that make abortion necessary.
“History tells us abortion is an age-old practice. It won’t stop,” Howell said. “We want to be sure it is safe and available.”
Pete Martin, a volunteer directing people to the anti-choice Women’s Care Center, said, “Our hope is to call attention to what’s going on and point out better options. We’d like to put the abortion clinic out of business.
“More and more women are coming to grips with killing their babies. We provide counseling to end dying babies and keep moms from being hurt.”
Mary Willi, another anti-choice volunteer on the sidewalk with Women’s Care Center, said “A lot of women come to see us after their abortion. We are here for everyone.
“Most women don’t want an abortion. They feel desperate.”
Director of the Women’s Care Center Jody Pitcher said, “We’re here for all moms, especially moms with unplanned pregnancies. Our goal is to inform and educate women about all their options. We offer unconditional support and love.”
She said the center has seen 500 women since it opened.
The Women’s Care Center on University Street is one of more than a dozen located in Florida, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, Minnesota and Illinois.
“Our goal is to reach all the schools and become a household name,” Pitcher said.
Jimena Lopez, an ICAT escort and one of the group’s organizers, said she used to drive past on University Street on her way to work and noticed when the new anti-choice center opened. She said ICAT escorts respect a woman’s right to choose.
“I cannot tell you what to do. You decide what’s best for you, and I respect your decision. Abortion is a private matter,” she said. “We’re not about killing babies. We’re about raising healthy children.”
Margaret Van Duyn, director at National Health Care since the clinic opened in 1974, said, “We appreciate the escorts. They do help our patients.
“I’m not interested in getting into a word exchange with the folks next door. Our purpose is to provide a safe environment for our patients.”
Lopez said, “This is a human rights issue. This is one of the worst times in a woman’s life. Respect her decision to do what’s best for her. Statistics are on our side. Over 70 percent of Americans believe women should have a legal right to an abortion.”
Lopez said the best way to end abortion is through universal access to comprehensive sex education and an end to violence against women.
Rosalie Howell and the clinic escorts were awarded the Sam Belfer Community Service Award by the Peoria Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union in recognition of their work to protect the civil rights of women to access safe, legal abortions.
People wanting to learn more about becoming an escort can email: PeoriansforRHC@yahoo.com.
To learn more about the Women’s Care Center, go to www.womenscarecenter.org.