1. Religion & Spirituality
Scott P. Richert

When Is a Back Alley Not a Back Alley?

By January 17, 2012

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As the 39th anniversary of Roe v. Wade approaches, abortion-rights advocates are, as always, memorializing the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision as a victory for women's health. Before January 22, 1973, the story goes, thousands of women died every year in "back-alley abortions." While he was running for the position of U.S. senator from Massachusetts in 1994, former Massachusetts governor (and likely 2012 Republican nominee for president) Mitt Romney even justified his support for abortion rights by pointing to "a dear, close family relative that was very close to me who passed away from an illegal abortion." (Governor Romney has since adopted a pro-life position.)

But there is often a disconnect between the rhetoric employed to justify the "need" for legal abortions and the response of abortion-rights advocates when confronted with cases in which abortion clinics have severely injured or even killed women in the course of legal abortions. While everyone expects Muslims to denounce their coreligionists who kill innocent people through terrorist acts, abortion-rights advocates rarely denounce abortionists who are arrested for putting the lives of women in danger by violating state health codes. Instead, they usually rally to the defense of such "doctors," who often perform abortions in unsanitary and unsafe conditions—barely better than the supposed "back alleys" of yesteryear.

The latest case in point is found in my hometown of Rockford, Illinois, where the Northern Illinois Women's Center, after 40 years and tens of thousands of abortions, was shut down a few months ago by the Illinois Department of Public Health for multiple serious violations of the state health code. The clinic had the choice of paying a $1,000 fine and closing, or paying a $9,750 fine, complying with state health regulations, and reopening.

The clinic chose to pay the lesser fine and to close its doors for good.

The clinic's decision ought to be a red flag even for the most diehard supporter of abortion rights, a signal that this clinic, housed in a rundown former public school, was precisely what the state claimed it to be: unsafe. And indeed, our local daily newspaper, the Rockford Register Star, which proudly proclaims that it "has supported a woman’s right to choose for decades," even seems to acknowledge the truth, in an editorial published on January 14, 2012:

The Illinois Department of Public Health shut down the Broadway clinic because of serious violations of state law, leaving questions as to whether the appropriate medical personnel were present during procedures and whether conditions were sanitary.

And yet, astoundingly, the Register Star's editorial still comes to the defense of the unsafe clinic:

The operators of the local abortion clinic did what they had to do. An unsafe facility is worse than no facility at all.

When is a back alley not a back alley? Apparently when you call it an abortion clinic, and present it as a champion of the rights of women—the same women whose lives were being put at risk by the unsafe and unsanitary conditions there.

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January 17, 2012 at 11:36 pm
(1) Lisa says:

“An unsafe facility is better than no facility at all.” What? I don’t even know how to respond to that.

January 18, 2012 at 4:46 pm
(2) Kevin says:

Fantastic article, great job reporting on this mill.

January 20, 2012 at 1:54 am
(3) JP says:


You don’t know how to respond because you didn’t read the article and the quote correctly. As stated:

The correct quote is, “an unsafe facility is worse than no facility at all.”

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