Guest Column

City of Danville becomes first ‘Sanctuary City for the Unborn’ in Illinois, 67th in US

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily of Live Action or Live Action News.

On Tuesday night the city council of Danville, Illinois (pop. 28,787), considered a “sanctuary city for the unborn” ordinance requiring compliance with federal abortion laws. After over three hours of hearing from public comment by those in attendance, the majority of whom were in favor of the measure, the City Council voted 8-7 to adopt “An Ordinance Adding Chapter 142 To the Danville, Illinois Code of Ordinances; Requiring Compliance With Federal Abortion Laws.

Mayor Rickey Williams, Jr. was the tie-breaking vote. The vote made the City of Danville the 67th city in the nation and the first in Illinois to pass a “sanctuary city for the unborn” ordinance. 

Like the “sanctuary for the unborn” ordinances passed in four cities and two counties in New Mexico, the Danville Ordinance does not explicitly ban abortion but simply requires compliance to federal statutes on abortion which prohibit the mailing or receiving of abortion-inducing drugs or abortion paraphernalia. The Danville Ordinance finds that federal law, in 18 U.S.C. §§ 1461-1462, “imposes felony criminal liability on every person who ships or receives abortion pills or abortion-related paraphernalia in interstate or foreign commerce” and that all such acts are “offenses under the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act.” The ordinance further argues that “the laws of Illinois do not and cannot secure a right, privilege or immunity to act in violation of federal criminal statutes such as 18 U.S.C. §§ 1461–62, or to engage in criminal or racketeering conduct as defined by federal law.”

Leading up to the council meeting the Danville City Council received letters from the ACLU of Illinois and Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul opposing the measure. At Tuesday night’s meeting the council heard from several in opposition to the ordinance, including Illinois Pharmacy Association Executive Director Garth Reynolds and Executive Board President Carrie Wiggins.

Reynolds shared, “If city council would move forward with passing the ordinance we would be put into a position, tomorrow, to file a complaint to the Department of Financial and Professional Regulation and to the State Board of Pharmacy that the City of Danville is in violation of the [Illinois Pharmacy] Practice Act.”

In her testimony, Wiggins argued the ordinance would impact mifepristone which, if prohibited from being received in Danville, would “hurt those with Cushing’s syndrome.” Wiggins also shared similar concerns that the ordinance would prevent the use of misoprostol for the treatment of stomach ulcers and methotrexate for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis.

Several attorneys also argued that the Supreme Court of the United States, in the Dobbs decision, had given the issue of abortion back to the states and that these federal statutes were not applicable to the State of Illinois. However, as loud as these voices were, these voices were not in the majority on Tuesday night.

The majority of those in the packed council chambers were there in support of the City Council passing the “sanctuary city for the unborn” ordinance. A director from Right To Life of East Texas and the founder of the Sanctuary Cities for the Unborn Initiative pushed back against some of the statements made by the ACLU of Illinois, defended the Comstock Act as the Supreme Law of the Land, and argued that the Supreme Court never said that this was just a states’ issue.

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The director quoted the Dobbs decision which stated, “The Constitution does not prohibit the citizens of each State from regulating or prohibiting abortion. Roe and Casey arrogated that authority. The Court overrules those decisions and returns that authority to the people and their elected representatives.” Representatives from Students for Life of America from Indianapolis, Indiana, shared about their experiences with the abortion business known as Clinic for Women seeking to locate in Danville, and Executive Director Melanie Lyon of the Indiana-based Voices for Life shared about Clinic for Women’s long history of health violations. 

Speaking of the abortion facility in Indianapolis, whose administrator has been involved in the purchasing of a building 85 miles away in Danville, Illinois, Lyon shared, “Voices for Life monitors all abortion facilities in Indiana for illegal activity and works to hold them accountable. There is a long history of health and safety violations in the Indiana abortion industry, and Clinic for Women is no exception. Reviewing their health inspection reports, you’ll find accounts of dusty equipment, lack of record keeping, expired drugs for patient use, and failure to sanitize medical equipment, among many other violations properly. It’s simple: Danville women deserve better.” 

Dr. Alveda King, niece of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, also wrote a letter in support of the Danville Ordinance:

The negligence of the abortion industry has been tolerated for far too long at the expense of the innocent and vulnerable, and if any change is going to be made it must start with upholding the same standards, transparency and accountability expected of all medical practitioners. Danville, if your city passes this ordinance, you will not be the first to recognize these federal statutes – nor is it likely that your city will be the last. Several federal judges have already opined with favorable statements towards these federal statutes, which many in the abortion industry consider ‘catastrophic’ to abortion access in America.

When it came time for the council to decide to adopt or reject the proposed ordinance, several council members expressed concern about the statements made by an OBGYN and the Illinois Pharmacy Association – fearing that their decision to vote in favor of the ordinance could negatively impact those in their community with postpartum hemorrhaging, Cushing’s Syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis, and stomach ulcers.

Alderwoman Eve Ludwig argued that her interpretation of the ordinance was that it only prohibited the mailing and receiving of abortion-inducing drugs if those drugs were intended to be used with the “purpose to terminate the pregnancy of a woman, with knowledge that the termination by any of those means will with reasonable likelihood cause the death of an unborn child.” In the end, the city council cast their votes. When the vote became a tie, Mayor Rickey Williams, Jr. voted in favor of the ordinance. 

After the council meeting, some lingering concerns from members of the City Council and a few citizens of Danville were addressed regarding the mailing and receiving of abortion-inducing drugs. Attorney Jonathan Mitchell, who has agreed to represent the City of Danville at no cost to the city and their taxpayers, shared, “This ordinance does nothing to restrict the shipment or receipt of drugs that are used for non-abortion purposes. It remains legal to ship and receive mifepristone and misoprostol if the intended use does not involve abortion.” 

While the Illinois Pharmacy Association’s position on the federal statutes cited in the Danville Ordinance appears to be unwavering, they are not the first Illinois organization to find themselves addressing the Comstock Act this year. 

In February 2023, Attorneys General from 20 states wrote a letter to Danielle Gray, who serves as the Executive Vice President of Walgreens Boots Alliance, Inc. located in Deerfield, Illinois. That letter read:

“Many people are not aware that federal law expressly prohibits using the mail to send or receive any drug that will “be used or applied for producing abortion.” 18 U.S.C. § 1461. Although many people are unfamiliar with this statute because it has not been amended in a few decades, the text could not be clearer: “every article or thing designed, adapted, or intended for producing abortion … shall not be conveyed in the mails.” And anyone who “knowingly takes any such thing from the mails for the purpose of circulating” is guilty of a federal crime. Obviously, a federal criminal law—especially one that is, as here, enforceable through a private right of action—deserves serious contemplation.” 

In March 2023, America’s second-largest pharmacy chain responded to the AGs and assured each that they did not intend to dispense mifepristone within their state or ship mifepristone into their state from any of their pharmacies. 

When covering the story, POLITICO quoted the State Government Affairs Advisor for the American Pharmacists Association who admitted that his members were struggling to navigate the “blatant contradictions between state and federal law that make it very challenging to identify what is legal and what is not legal.” 

Regardless of what happens in the days to come, the Sanctuary Cities for the Unborn Initiative has arrived in Illinois and Danville will likely not be the last city to pass an ordinance. Doug Knapp, Executive Pastor of Hope Unlimited in Danville, shared, “For a long time unity among our churches was something that was fleeting in our city. Last night, the ‘Church of Danville’ found its voice. Giving that voice to the unborn. I am looking forward to more cities joining Danville in the fight for life.”

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