A recent request from a Will County Board member for his colleagues to stand in support of the “protection of babies born alive” sparked criticism.
Toward the end of Thursday’s Will County Board meeting, members Steve Balich, R-Homer Glen, and the Rev. Herbert Brooks Jr., D-Joliet, stood up at a lectern to make a statement in recognition of October as respect life month. Brooks read a brief statement aloud.
“We believe that people in Will County want protection for their babies, and we all believe that they want to be kept alive,” Brooks said.
Then, Balich asked any board member who agreed with their sentiment to stand and say, “I agree.” While all of the Republican members stood up, no other Democratic members did. In subsequent comments, some Democratic members argued that the request was inappropriate for a County Board meeting and oversimplified the complex issue of reproductive rights.
Member Rachel Ventura, D-Joliet, called it a “political statement,” which didn’t reflect the law. Ventura said that she hoped her Republican colleagues would support issues such as parental leave, day care and accessible birth control to support families.
Member Mimi Cowan, D-Naperville, said Balich’s framing of the issue was “reprehensible” and “deeply offensive” and said reproductive health was a “complex and difficult subject.” She told the story of a former roommate’s colleague in Ireland who died of a septic miscarriage because abortion was illegal in that country at the time.
Balich responded to the comments, arguing that his request was not meant to be political. He then drew further ire from Cowan while he was making his remarks and referred to the female board members who spoke as “girls.”
“I’m not a girl,” Cowan said to Balich as she walked out of the boardroom.
“Whatever, I don’t know what you are,” Balich said. “I don’t pay attention to you.”
He insisted his request was not political and was about “killing a live human being.”
Member Beth Rice, D-Bolingbrook, also took issue with Balich’s request, saying she felt “clearly disrespected” by it.
“I hope that we don’t start the precedent of out of the blue asking board members to stand for something or not stand for something,” she said.
After the meeting, Balich reiterated he didn’t intend to make a political statement, instead saying it was a “moral issue.” He said he expected some Democratic support, but was taken aback when no other Democrats stood up when he made the request. With Brooks by his side, he figured that would make their statement bipartisan, and therefore not political. In retrospect, Balich said if he knew how the issue would play out, he would not have done it.
Both Balich and Brooks wanted to make a bipartisan statement. Brooks said he began speaking with Balich about it after news broke of more than 2,200 fetal remains found on the Crete Township property of a dead abortion doctor. Brooks said there was a miscommunication with Balich, and he did not know he would ask members to stand in agreement. He said he disagreed with how Balich went about the request.
While Brooks described himself as “pro-life” in part because he has three adopted children, he said he also agreed with some of the comments made by fellow Democrats. He also agreed with them about the County Board being an inappropriate venue to debate issues such as abortion.
“I’ve never had a baby,” Brooks said. “I’m not going to put myself in the woman’s place.”