Chicago-based Aid for Women, which has served thousands of women each year since 1978, is celebrating an unusual victory after hauling in its first-ever Emmy at Saturday night’s Chicago-Midwest Emmy Awards.
Produced in partnership with Spirit Juice Videos, the award-winning video featured a former client, Janessa, who chose life for her son, Christian, when she was pregnant at age 19.
“I was 19 years old when I found out I was pregnant, and I was just in a state of shock,” Janessa says in the video. “I cried for, like, four months. It was going to be a very, very difficult time for me and I didn’t know how to handle it. I didn’t know who to reach out to, I didn’t know if I was going to be able to do it by myself, and it was just an overwhelming experience for me. I needed help.”
Searching on Google, Janessa found help at one of Aid for Women’s five brick and mortar locations.
Janessa, whose family and friends played a minimal role in her life—especially now that she was pregnant—ended up becoming a regular at Aid for Women during her pregnancy, where the center’s staff showed her compassion and hope on a day-by-day basis.
She not only rejected abortion, but ended up being referred to one of Aid for Women’s two residential maternity homes, Heather’s House, where she would deliver Christian and live during the first few months of his life.
“The day I moved into Heather’s House, I just knew this was going to be my home,” Janessa said. “I just felt like I belonged here.”
Her time with the staff at Aid for Women and living at Heather’s House gave Janessa the tools she needed to be a good parent. But it also put her on a path toward earning her college degree—a thought that likely would never have crossed her mind had she not found Aid for Women.
“I was kind of lost,” Janessa says in the video. “I didn’t know what direction I wanted to go in my life, and I just really needed that love and that 100 percent having my back and being there for me.”
Aid for Women is hoping the Emmy will be the first of two good pieces of news to come out of the first full week of December. The organization is one of four named plaintiffs—including its medical director, Dr. Anthony Caruso—in a lawsuit challenging legislation that forces as many as 130 pregnancy help locations, plus doctors and other medical personnel, to refer patients directly to abortion clinics.
The hearing for the lawsuit, filed in the Winnebago County 17th Judicial Circuit Court, is set for Wednesday, Dec. 7. A second lawsuit has been filed challenging the legislation in the U.S. District Court for Northern Illinois, with a ruling expected before the end of the calendar year.
Taking effect Jan. 1, the legislation amends the state’s existing Healthcare Right of Conscience Act to force medical providers of all kinds—including pregnancy centers and ultrasound-equipped medical clinics—to refer patients to a local abortion clinic and counsel as to the so-called “benefits” of abortion.
Signed into law July 29 by Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, pro-life advocates contend the law tramples over First Amendment rights to free speech and free religious exercise not only of pro-life medicos and organizations, but to those of clients like Janessa, who, unless the law is turned back by the courts, would be required by law to be told why she should have an abortion and where she could get one.
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“Aid for Women works with thousands of pregnant women each year, and we see firsthand that women are feeling alone and are victims of their circumstances—that is the real injustice,” Aid for Women executive director Susan Barrett wrote in a mid-September letter to the editor published in the Chicago Sun-Times. “True justice is giving women the emotional and material resources they need to carry a child to term, and either parent or make an adoption plan.”
Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) is arguing both cases before the courts. ADF has been instrumental in convincing courts to strike down similar First Amendment violations against pregnancy centers in Austin (TX), New York City, Baltimore (MD) and Montgomery County (MD)—the latter of which cost taxpayers $375,000 in fines alone.
Also fighting a law in California that forces pregnancy centers and ultrasound-equipped medical clinics to post signage that encourages or refers patients to seek out state-funded abortion services, ADF is fighting alongside pregnancy help affiliation group National Institutes of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA)—a named plaintiff in both states.
As the president of the world’s largest pregnancy help affiliation network, Heartbeat International president Jor-El Godsey has spoken out against the legislation, calling upon affiliates in Illinois to refuse to comply with the law if it were to survive the court.
“This law demands that we violate both individual conscience and the ethical standard of the entire pregnancy help community,” Godsey said, referring to a tenant in the Commitment of Care and Competence to which pregnancy help organizations agree as a condition of affiliation with major groups including Heartbeat International, Care Net, NIFLA, and others.
“To violate this major tenet of our life-affirming outreach, even if compelled by the government, represents an undeniable breach of ethics. To bow the knee to the state is to deny the very foundation of our mission.”