Catholics advocate for ultrasounds, textbook funding from state

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Sunday, April 24, 2011

Renewing funding for the Illinois textbook loan program and passing a bill requiring women considering abortion to be offered the opportunity to see ultrasound images of their babies are among the Catholic Conference of Illinois’ legislative priorities this spring.

The items, along with a resolution in honor of Father Augustus Tolton, the first African-American priest to minister in the United States, were discussed at an April 6 press conference in Springfield.

Ultrasound opportunity

Springfield Bishop Thomas Paprocki said the ultrasound bill is all about making sure women have all the information they should before going ahead with an abortion.

“This bill, the Ultrasound Opportunity Act, is about information and transparency,” said Bishop Paprocki, who is a former Chicago auxiliary bishop.

Rep. Brandon Phelps (D-Harrisburg) sponsored the bill.

“We feel like this is a bill that is long overdue,” Phelps said. “We’re not forcing. We’re just asking the lady if she would like to see the ultrasound, plain and simple.”

However, if it is to pass, supporters will have to dislodge an amendment offered by Rep. Sara Feigenholtz (D-Chicago), which applies the ultrasound requirement to all medical procedures, not just abortions. The amendment is a “poison pill,” intended to make the requirements of the bill too onerous for it to pass, said Robert Gilligan, executive director of the Catholic Conference of Illinois.

Doctors already perform ultrasounds before most abortions to see the location of the fetus and get a more accurate measure of gestational age, Bishop Paprocki said.

“This practice is commonplace already,” Bishop Paprocki said. “It is good medical practice and procedure to do an ultrasound. All that we’re saying is that we should put this practice into law and make sure that every provider offers this opportunity for all expectant mothers.”

He acknowledged that the church’s goal is to reduce the number of abortions, and said he believes that women who see ultrasound images of their babies are more likely to carry them to term.

Textbooks for all

The textbook loan program has not been as controversial, but it does cost money. State Rep. Joe Lyons (D-Chicago) sponsored a bill to appropriate $42 million for the program, which provides money for public and private schools to keep their textbooks updated. Most of the money goes to public schools, which have about 88 percent of the elementary and high school students in the state.

“My hope is that we can keep this program alive,” Lyons said at the press conference. “Trust in the Holy Spirit to put a little sense in all our noggins not to have cuts to things that pay off so beneficially to our children in Illinois.”

The program was cut by the Illinois State Board of Education the last two years as it sought to balance its own budget.