A circle of people surround the entrance and parking lot of the ACU Health Center in Hinsdale. Praying the rosary aloud, they are bundled up against the cold, bleak weather. It is 6 a.m. Saturday and dark.
The group of 34 people is accompanied by small children. They are opposed to abortion and have come to rally outside of ACU, where abortions are performed.
One woman stands at the side of the driveway. Wearing a fluorescent orange vest, she resembles a road worker. A car pulls up, stops for her and rolls down the window. As she begins to speak to the driver and passenger, two men in white vests call out from the entrance to the clinic “Let them through, please.” The men are escorts provided by ACU.
The woman in orange steps back and the driver proceeds to park. A young woman climbs out of the car. As she walks to the door of the clinic, escorted by the men in white, the woman in orange calls out, “Please Mom, listen to us today. Let us help you.”
The woman in orange is Lynn Benz — a devoted pro-life activist. Every Saturday for eight years she has been coming to ACU at 5:30 a.m. and stands outside, sometimes in the dark, sometimes in the cold, sometimes in the rain or snow. She passes out pamphlets and tries to speak to the women walking into ACU about pregnancy and abortion.
Benz, 50, lives in LaGrange and is the married mother of five children. A Catholic, Benz is very active in her church, St. Francis Xavier Parish. She and her husband occasionally raise foster children, many of whom have special needs.
Always an abortion opponent, she became active about eight years ago after a parishioner meeting at the home of her friend Ellen Clayton. At the meeting they viewed “The Silent Scream,” a movie that shows an abortion performed on an 11-week-old fetus internally through an ultrasound camera. Benz said the more she learned about abortion, the harder it was to turn her back on it.
The Federal Centers for Disease Control estimate that about 900,000 legal abortions are performed annually in the U.S.
“Lynn walks the walk, she doesn’t just talk the talk, and she is the most non-judgmental person. She doesn’t see color or ethnicity, she sees it for what it is, and she is a huge inspiration for me,” Clayton, 50, said. She occasionally joins Benz on Saturday mornings but would like to go there more often.
Seven years ago Benz and Clayton stopped a 15-year-old girl, Mayra Quintero, as she was walking into ACU. She told them that she was impregnated by a man 10 years older than she was. She said she was having an abortion because she was afraid to tell her violent father ; she also didn’t want her boyfriend to get in trouble.
Benz immediately offered support. That day she contacted a domestic abuse counselor and Quintero’s pastor. They went to Quintero’s home and informed her family together. She lived with Benz for the first few months of her pregnancy.
After the baby was born the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services got involved with the family. No charges were ever brought against Quintero’s boyfriend, who had committed statutory rape.
Seven years later, she is the 22-year-old mother of two children. She left her boyfriend and lives on her own in an apartment close to her family, while attending junior college. Quintero and Benz remain close.
“Lynn is like an angel. She’s helped me so much. I didn’t want to have an abortion but my home situation was very abusive and that was what everyone was telling me to do,” Quintero said. “I look at my daughter and she’s so smart and she looks just like me at that age. I know I gave her a chance. I feel bad for people who have had abortions.”
Benz wants the message to be clear: She does not come to ACU to judge others or scare them. She said she is trying to let women know they have options. “I get it. I get how someone can get in this situation. I’m not perfect. People make mistakes,” Benz said.
She said she waits for women outside of ACU after the procedure to let them know where they can get counseling.
Benz said anti-abortion activists are often considered crazy or violent or religious fanatics. “We’re not screaming or swearing. We are prayerful, peaceful people” she said.
Benz and Clayton shared a laugh recalling an incident at a rally outside of a church in Chicago last year. “There must have been about 2,000 people. We had to stand outside. The cardinal said a beautiful mass and then we made our way to a local clinic to pray,” Benz said. Participants were told not to bring signs.
“There was one person in the whole crowd with crazy buttons and signs and nothing against this person, but they were a little off. The reporters went right up to this person and starting interviewing him and taking pictures. I looked at Ellen and said ‘Ellen, we are not going to let them do this to us!’ we walked over and asked ‘Out of all of these beautiful people why are you singling this person out? We would like to talk to you,’” Benz recalled.
Melissa Bear, 31, is a single woman with no children. She is pro-choice and disagrees with Benz. “So basically she [Benz] is one of those people that stand around harassing women. Those people are nuts,” Bear said. “They think that their opinions are more important than what another person chooses do to with their own body. Don’t these people have jobs or other things to do?”
Benz also opposes birth control because it stops a human life. She approves of birth control pills for medical reasons but not for any other artificial means of contraception. Benz also does not believe abortion is acceptable in cases of rape or incest. She said aborting a child conceived through rape or incest is a means of covering up abuse and the destruction of evidence. “Though I hate to talk about a child like that,” she said.
Discussing people who murder abortion providers and blow up clinics, Benz chooses her words carefully. “I don’t have it in me. But if someone is standing there in the moment about to kill someone, picture yourself standing there and a knife to a child. What would you do? Would you say that was wrong in the moment?”
“She’s one of those.” Nick Heroldt said in response to Benz’s statement about people who murder abortion providers. Heroldt, in his early 30s, is not married and has no children. He is a firm democrat. He says the pro-life movement is about politics and has nothing to do with pro-life activists caring about women, and that they actually work against women. “It shows in their political views. These people do this because they’re all Christian Republicans and they want to cut funding for anything supported by a small, liberal government.”
Benz’s good friend Amy Keane, 46, comes out on Saturdays to show her support. She said a few years ago the group outside was made up of only a few people and has grown to 30 to 40 supporters. Benz and Keane met through St. Francis Xavier Parish. “Lynn really is a leader at that parish” Keane said. “She is such a fun, interesting person and a funny thing about Lynn is that she sees the positive in every situation.”
A man with a little boy stood outside the clinic one recent Saturday. Chris Skokna is the father of eight children. He has been coming to the protests for a few years, and sometimes brings his 9-year-old son, Max. “I don’t make him come with, he volunteers because he knows we’ll go to McDonald’s or Dunkin Donuts afterwards,” Skokna said. He met Benz through the clinic.
He too wants others to know that anti-abortion protestors are not gathered outside ACU to scare women but to support them. “Everyone here is genuine. They’re not fanatics. They care about people. You’re not pro-life and don’t care about other issues. After this a lot of us go downtown to volunteer at soup kitchens,” he said.
On one recent Saturday, the protestors are excited because a 15-year-old girl is inside the clinic. She has not been accompanied by a parent or guardian. The police were called after a report of possible sexual abuse.
Petr Holubar, 32, is a married father of one daughter. He will not say whether he is pro-life or pro-choice but he does not agree with pro-life protesters rallying outside of abortion clinics “Those people are fanatics and I have a big problem with any type of fanatic in general.”
Benz said she will be active in her crusade until she dies. She predicts legal abortion will end. She said she feels close to God when she is helping others. “[LIFE] is a gift for all of us. I want us to be at war over this,” she said. ACU administration and employees refused to comment for this story.
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