CHICAGO — A federal judge in Chicago has ruled that officials in Elgin City, Illinois can’t use a local zoning ordinance to thwart the efforts of a free mobile ultrasound unit to “save the lives of unborn children.”
In March of this year, TLC Pregnancy Services, run by The Life Center, Inc., filed a lawsuit against the City of Elgin for forcing the pro-life outreach to shut down its operations following a complaint by Council Member Anna Moeller. Police Chief Jeffrey Swoboda had boarded up the mobile unit in August 2012, ordering the ultrasound technician, Jane DeFily, to “cease and desist” her activities. He explained that a council member had called the unit an “eyesore.”
Additionally, The Life Center learned that Elgin City Council had amended its zoning code so that the mobile ultrasound would be considered a “temporary land use” that could only receive a permit four times a year per location. When the pro-life outreach attempted to obtain a permit last year, it was told that the City would not issue the organization any permits for the rest of 2012. The mobile ultrasound had been parking at Evangelical Covenant Church and JB’s Bar and Pub near the Elgin high school interchangeably.
“Why should young women in Elgin, who may have nowhere else to turn, be deprived of free medical services and support?” asked Noel W. Sterett, an attorney with the law firm Mauck & Baker, which has been representing the pro-life organization. “Pregnancy information and support, which TLC makes accessible free of charge, are critical to young women facing an unplanned pregnancy.”
Shortly after filing the lawsuit, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division, granted The Life Center a temporary injunction to continue its activities while the case moved forward in court. On Thursday, the court make the injunction permanent, ruling that the city’s amended zoning ordinance was unconstitutional.
“The city’s code is unduly burdensome to the right of a woman to choose life,” wrote Judge Samuel Der-Yeghiayan, nominated by George W. Bush. “It is puzzling why the city would be so unreasonable in implementing ordinances and policies that curtail not only the constitutional rights of its citizens but also the availability of needed medical care and emotional support for its vulnerable young women.”
“[I]t must be recognized that the City is preventing Life Center from being able to effectively provide pregnant women in the city with needed medical care that could identify issues and save lives of unborn children,” he continued. “Life Center has in fact provided evidence that it has helped a multitude of young women who have used the services at the mobile facility.”
Alliance Defending Freedom, which has been working with Mauck & Baker on the case, says that it is pleased with the ruling.
“Women deserve access to the help they need for themselves and their unborn children without undue interference from the government,” remarked Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Counsel Steven H. Aden. “The court was right to stop the City of Elgin from preventing women in need from obtaining free ultrasounds and health information. Life Center’s free services help both the city and its citizens, so the city’s actions have been both counterproductive and unconstitutional.”
City officials told the Chicago Tribune that it is reviewing the matter and is considering what action may be taken next, including revising the ordinance. The Life Center said that it may expand its outreach locations as a result of the favorable outcome.