Ordinance requiring compliance with federal abortion laws attracts huge crowd; 3-plus-hour meeting ends with aldermen voting against it

Dennis Holbrook

Dennis Holbrook (standing at podium) addresses the Quincy City Council during Monday night's meeting in front of an overflow crowd. | David Adam

QUINCY — After hearing more than two hours of speakers speak respectfully on both sides of the sanctuary city for the unborn ordinance, debate among members of the Quincy City Council got a little heated Monday night before they voted 7-5 against it.

The issue attracted an overflow crowd that filled City Council chambers and spilled into the lobby. Voting against the ordinance were Greg Fletcher (R-1), Jeff Bergman (R-2), Dave Bauer (D-2), Breanna Rivera (R-3), Richie Reis (D-6), Ben Uzelac (D-7) and Jack Holtschlag (D-7). Voting in favor of the ordinance were Eric Entrup (R-1), Kelly Mays (R-3), Mike Farha (R-4), Glen Ebbing (R-5) and Jake Reed (R-6).

Tony Sassen (R-4) and Mike Rein (R-5) were absent. Had they voted in favor of the ordinance, Mayor Mike Troup would have cast the deciding vote. After the meeting, he said he would have voted against the ordinance.

“Personally, am I pro-life? Yes,” he said. “But is this something the City Council should be dealing with? That’s where, I think, the no votes came in. I don’t know that there’s really anyone on the City Council who’s not pro-life.”

The ordinance, “requiring compliance with federal abortion laws,” was scheduled for the first of three weekly readings. However, Bergman asked to bring the ordinance to a vote.

Fletcher was the first to discuss the ordinance. He said he doesn’t like abortion, but “gray-haired guys” like himself have no business involving themselves in a decision between a patient and a doctor.

“I don’t think I have a right to stick my snoot in this,” he said. “This should have been handled on the state level with our legislators. … The federal government reversed Roe v. Wade and gave (abortion) back to the states. We make decisions with the state of what the law of the land will be. I don’t like it, but it’s the law of the land, and that’s where we need to change it. Not in this room.”

When Fletcher asked Corporate Counsel Lonnie Dunn if a person could get an abortion in Quincy, Reed interrupted.

“I’m talking to Lonnie. Thank you,” Fletcher said. When Reed continued to talk, Fletcher repeated himself, only louder.

“You’re out of line. Be quiet,” Fletcher said.

Fletcher then asked Dunn what would happen if the ordinance were approved.

“There is a provision that requires a declatory judgment be entered, and it is in favor with an ordinance that is at odds with the state of Illinois,” Dunn said. “We (would) have acted against the state law that preempts our action doing that. We’ll probably invite a lot of different lawsuits over here.”

Fletcher then asked Chuck Bevelheimer, director of planning and development, if zoning ordinances prohibit an abortion clinic from being built in Quincy — even if the ordinance passes.

“My interpretation of the zoning law is you can’t exclude a medical clinic that provides limited resources like that,” Bevelheimer said.

Fletcher finished his comments by saying the ordinance has done nothing but create division.

“I don’t want to be part of this,” he said. “I will vote no because I think it’s the right thing to do.”

Reed said the Comstock Act, a federal law which limits access to abortion and contraception drugs sent by mail, goes against the Reproductive Health Care Act passed by the Illinois General Assembly in 2019. He believes if it were litigated in court and went to the Supreme Court, the Reproductive Health Care Act would “likely be overturned, thus ending abortion throughout the nation.”

“Take this fight to Springfield. Not here,” Fletcher said.

“You say that you are pro-life,” Reed said. “Your vote of no on this proves exactly the opposite.”

“That’s horses**t,” Fletcher said.

“You support what the opposition is saying,” Reed continued. “You are scared of what (Illinois) Gov. (JB) Pritzker could do to you. You are scared about (Illinois Attorney General) Kwame Raoul could do to you.”

“Don’t tell me what I’m scared of,” Fletcher said. “You don’t know what I’m scared of, boy. I ain’t scared of that.”

Reed then waved a yellow folder he claimed contained more than 1,000 signatures in support of the ordinance. A pro-choice woman in the back of the room then yelled her supporters had “just as many signatures” against the ordinance. Troup then chastised the crowd and said if he heard another outburst, those people would be removed from the room.

“Your vote of no, Greg, is a spit in the face of all these people who signed this petition,” Reed said. “You’re agreeing with the opposition. It’s plain and simple.”

Uzelac asked how long his petitions were available to be signed and where. Reed said the petitions were available for about three weeks and that they were available in local churches. Uzelac said Sophia Escobedo with Personal PAC, a pro-choice organization supporting women’s rights in Illinois, told aldermen during the public forum she had secured 450 signatures in little more than a week.

“If you extrapolate that to a three-week period, that’s more than enough signatures,” Uzelac said. 

“I guarantee there are national signatures on it,” Reed said.

“I didn’t get a chance to sign it,” Uzelac said.

“If you ever went to church, you would have,” Reed shot back.

Bergman asked Dunn if the city would face litigation if the ordinance passed.

“Just the ordinance passing could potentially be litigation, as well as if the declatory judgment was entered,” Dunn said. “The State of Illinois has made it very clear where we’re at. We are preempted as a municipality from acting on it. If we do something and act on a statute that has been preempted, then our carrier can deny us coverage.”

Mays asked why the Comstock Act, if valid, needs an ordinance from the city to be enforced.

“Because of the current makeup of our federal government right now, the Biden DOJ (Department of Justice) is not going to prosecute states for going against federal statutes at this point,” Reed said.

“I don’t think (this is) necessarily a vote for or against abortion,” Mays said. “It’s just where we live in this state. It’s more difficult to enact these things. It’s just a choice if the city really wants to pursue this or not.”

Bergman asked about the city’s liability with grants — both ones already applied for and ones already granted — that could be rescinded because the city would be in violation of state law. 

“Whenever you apply for a grant or an earmark, a part of the application process (is) always we always have to certify that we’re abiding by all the state laws, rules, etc.,” Dunn said. “If we aren’t doing that, we will break that and then yeah, they could claw back.”

“I think it would give us a black eye,” Bevelheimer said.

“I do not want to get into the discussion of putting dollars over the life of an unborn child,” Bergman said. “The reality is, I hate to say it, if the state wants to stick it to us because of some actions we take here against their policy on abortion, they could stick it to us.”

Fifty-six people signed up to speak during the public forum portion of the meeting. Muddy River News checked with past mayors Kyle Moore (2013-2021), John Spring (2005-2013) and Chuck Scholz (1993-2005), and none could remember more people signing up to speak at a City Council meeting.

Muddy River News counted 29 people spoke against the ordinance and 27 people spoke in favor. Among some of the comments were:

  • “The Ten Commandments are not a mere suggestion by law. One of those laws just happens to be, ‘Thou shalt not kill.’ Voting yes for this ordinance, in all honesty, should be a slam dunk for the city of Quincy.” — Dennis Holbrook
  • “Myself and my husband, young people who work in Quincy, oppose this ordinance to make Quincy as a sanctuary city for the unborn. And if it passes, we’ll leave. We’ll take our careers elsewhere. … A vote for this ordinance is a vote against the quality of medical care in this community.” — Anna Luparell
  • “Am I living God’s gospel? I think that’s become so important to me, reflecting on as my time nears when I end my time on this earth. I ask all of you to worry less about lawsuits and think about how you will answer the Lord on your last day when that time comes.” — John Obert
  • “(Stable housing) may literally be the deciding factor in whether to carry a pregnancy to term rather than engage in political strategies that will only serve to bitterly divide our community. I’m advocating that we focus on ending the housing crisis. Why can’t we bring the energy in this room to solve that local problem?” — Megan Duesterhaus
  • “I thought if the church said (abortion is) OK, it must be OK. But what they didn’t prepare me for is that what I would experience having an abortion. This is how an abortion feels. You can feel the baby being torn from me. It feels like (the baby) is trying to hold on, but it’s being ripped from me.” — Paula Wallace
  • “I know how hard it is to keep focused on what I was charged to do (as a former Quincy School Board member). I ask you to do the same. … Don’t erode the community. Don’t paralyze government. Don’t create mandates. This issue is not simple. It is emotional and medically complex. It does not belong on your plate.” — Carol Nichols

Troup thought the meeting went well despite its length of 3 hours and 20 minutes.

“We allowed 56 people to talk, which is good,” he said. “I thought people were respectful of one another. You had two opposing sides, bouncing back and forth. If they didn’t need their three minutes (the limit for a speaker during the forum), they didn’t take the three minutes, which was also nice. 

“It could have been longer, you know.”

Aldermen also: 

  • Approved a special event application requesting permission to hold the annual Veterans Day parade on Nov. 4.
  • Approved the statement of work from Anders Technology to assist the city’s IT Department on an interim basis for a total amount not to exceed $90,000 for a six-month period. 
  • Approved the low bid from Rees Construction Co. for $166,496.66, for the Quincy Regional Airport terminal building settlement repairs project. 
  • Heard a proclamation declaring the week of October 8-14 as Fire Prevention Week. 
  • Recognized and thanked IT Director Corey Dean, whose last day on the job is Thursday.

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