BLOOMINGTON - The Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade abortion decision turns 33 years ago today, prompting anti-abortion activists to gather Saturday to pray and grieve.
About 50 people attended the annual recognition of the Jan. 22, 1973, decision by meeting on the steps of the McLean County Museum of History in downtown Bloomington.
While not attending the event, abortion-rights advocates also have been talking about the significance of the decision, which they see as a cornerstone of women's rights and an affirmation of the Bill of Rights.
More people are paying attention to the issue today because the confirmation process for Judge Samuel Alito, a nominee for the High Court, is in the news every day, said Tom Shilgalis, of the Right to Life in Bloomington-Normal, which organized the outdoor service.
If Alito is confirmed by the U.S. Senate, conservatives hope the Roe v. Wade could be overturned, he said.
Bloomington-Normal's annual Memorial Service for the Unborn Victims of Abortion is a "consciousness-raising" event, said Shilgalis,
"It's with grief and sadness we recognize that event," he said. "We come every year to remember the unborn victims of abortion."
There were neither protest signs nor shouting at the peaceful event, which was attended by people of a variety of ages.
"We're praying for the souls of the unborn and for the end of abortion," said Maria Brake, a religion teacher at Central Catholic High School in Bloomington.
One of her students, 14-year-old freshman Shannon Kelly, and Kelly's mother attended. Kelly said she is a member of the anti-abortion group at Central Catholic, and said she wanted to attend to show her support.
Shilgalis said that as far as he knew, all the people attending were against abortion. "Some years we get some hecklers," he said.
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Retired Illinois State University professor Robert Sutherland defended the ruling during a telephone interview earlier in the week.
"It was a decision that established a legality of choice. It is an extremely important right for women," said Sutherland, who was among the founders of the Central Illinois Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.
He called it "a benchmark for freedoms we hold as named in the U.S. Bill of Rights."
On the other side, Shilgalis and those attending the memorial service talked about fetuses that have been aborted.
The Rev. Clark Killingsworth of College Avenue Baptist Church in Normal led the group in 45 seconds of silence - "one for each of the 45 million" abortions claimed by anti-abo!rtion activists.
"That's a staggering number, that most people can't even visualize," he said.
Shilgalis counted letters and digits in the white pages of the Bloomington-Normal phonebook and estimated that it had 1 million numbers and letter. If each digit represents a "dead unborn child," you would have to stack 45 books to represent all of them, he said.
The Roe v. Wade ruling came from class action suit on behalf of "Jane Roe" (Norma Mcovey of Texas), a pregnant, single woman who filed a suit asking for recognition of what she claimed were her reproductive rights.
The decision prompted decades of debate over legalizing abortion, the role of the Supreme Court decisions, and the relationship between religion and politics.
"We pray to God they (Supreme Court justices) will reverse the decision," Killingsworth said. "Unborn children may have been forgotten. We gather to remember."
On the other side, Sutherland said, "We hope the Supreme Court continues to let stand the rights established in that case."
Even if the decision isn't reversed, Sutherland said he hopes the rights it ensures are not "whittled away."
"I don't worry about the name of the bill or lawsuit. I worry about the principles it represents," Sutherland said.