Every day, 19-year-old Hope Miller prays for an end to abortion.
The young woman from north suburban Hawthorn Woods was elated in June 2022 when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the landmark Jan. 22, 1973, ruling that had guaranteed the right to terminate a pregnancy nationwide for nearly a half-century.
Yet as the anniversary of the now-defunct decision approaches, Miller is thinking bigger.
“We want abortion gone completely,” said the College of Lake County student. “We want it illegal across the nation.”
Miller is a third-generation anti-abortion activist, the granddaughter of the late Joseph Scheidler, who founded the Chicago-based Pro-Life Action League and was widely known across the country as the “godfather of pro-life activism.” The teen is now carrying on his legacy through her own work opposing abortion in Illinois, a longtime stronghold for reproductive rights in the Midwest.
Just over the state line in northwest Indiana, another family is fighting a diametrically opposite battle to restore reproductive freedoms in a part of the country where they’ve recently been stripped.
For years, Julie Storbeck and a small group of protesters have gathered every Tuesday at the Porter County Courthouse to rally in support of abortion rights. She is president of the Indiana National Organization for Women, a pro-reproductive rights group that has condemned the state’s near-total abortion ban, which went into effect in August.
Her daughter Hannah Trueblood, 29, has also taken up the cause of reproductive justice, often demonstrating against abortion restrictions alongside her mother. In November, Trueblood also ran for mayor of Valparaiso on a platform that promoted reproductive rights.
The Democrat made history as the first woman on the ballot in a general election mayoral race in the city of about 34,000, which is about an hour southeast of downtown Chicago, though she lost to Republican Jon Costas.
“I was actually urged to ‘tone down on the abortion stuff’ … by some people saying that was a topic that was too polarizing,” Trueblood recalled. “But the reality is, when I actually doubled down on those issues was where I found really great strengths in my campaign and we earned votes and we got volunteers. We shifted that conversation.”
As the anniversary of Roe approaches, the two families of intergenerational activists both face formidable challenges in their adjacent states, where laws and politics are largely hostile to their respective missions.
Nationwide, much of the reproductive rights landscape remains in flux in the wake of Roe’s demise. While large sections of the Midwest and South severely restrict or nearly outlaw terminating a pregnancy, a recent reproductive rights victory in Ohio might signify change: Voters in November approved a ballot measure that protects abortion rights in the state constitution, spurring reproductive rights advocates to attempt to pass similar measures in other states, including one that’s brewing in neighboring Missouri.
Across the Chicago area and nation, reproductive rights advocates and those opposed to abortion have been commemorating Roe at events throughout the week, culminating Monday on the anniversary of the landmark ruling.
The Archdiocese of Chicago held an overnight vigil for life from Thursday evening to Friday morning at St. John Paul II Newman Center Chapel at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Participants were asked to pray on-site or virtually as part of an annual national event with “the hope of changing hearts and minds to build a culture of life,” according to an event description.
The Chicago-based Pro-Life Action League hosted a booth Thursday at the National March for Life expo in Washington, D.C. Miller attended the annual event, which included a rally and march Friday. The March for Life website acknowledged the “wonderful blessing of Roe v. Wade being overturned,” but added that “the necessary work to build a culture of life in the United States of America is not finished.”
Various Women’s March protests and demonstrations in support of reproductive rights were planned around the country this weekend, including the “Bigger than Roe” rally on Saturday in northwest suburban Crystal Lake, which was co-sponsored by McHenry County Citizens for Choice and McHenry County NOW.
“Contrary to pundit predictions, the fall of Roe v. Wade did not dampen our momentum,” the national Women’s March website states. “Instead, it galvanized it, proving that our fight extends beyond any court decision.”
Indiana NOW planned a “Battle for Our Bodies” campaign on Saturday, a series of rallies and actions across the state aimed at ending “reproductive injustice” in Indiana. The local northwest Indiana chapter of NOW — which Storbeck also leads — planned to kick off a menstrual product donation drive Saturday as well.
Reproductive rights also looms as a divisive issue in the 2024 presidential election. The Biden administration has pledged to be “out in full force” to mark the anniversary of Roe, saying that democracy and abortion access are inextricably linked.
Republican front-runner and former President Donald Trump boasted about his role in having “terminated” Roe, referring to the end of federal abortion protections as a “miracle” while campaigning in Iowa this month; at the same time, he argued that Republicans shouldn’t lock themselves into staunch election positions on issues that aren’t popular with most of the public, instead encouraging them to find consensus in order to win elections, according to The Associated Press.
“Reproductive freedom is one of the biggest issues in this election,” Vice President Kamala Harris posted Friday on the social media site X, formerly known as Twitter. “Everyone has a role to play.”
Pivotal time and place
At the age of 12, Miller held a roughly 5-foot sign with a graphic image of an aborted fetus in northwest suburban Palatine during a “Face the Truth Tour” hosted by the Pro-Life Action League, one of the many anti-abortion events she attended with her grandfather.
She recalled that some of her friends, also from conservative Christian families, were not allowed to attend because the pictures were too explicit.
Yet the experience was inspirational for Miller.
“I kind of just sat there, looking at this baby. … It was just this baby who had been ripped apart and reassembled into the shape of a body with two arms and the torso,” she said. “It was graphic, but it didn’t scare me. It made me very sad.”
While anti-abortion activism had permeated much of her childhood and family life, it was during her adolescence that Miller said she began to form her own views and pursue more independent advocacy for the cause.
During high school, the devout Catholic was president of Crusaders for Life in north suburban Volo. She later founded her own nonprofit, Simply Pro-Life, with the goal of “ending abortion one baby step at a time,” according to her website. The organization encourages smaller actions against abortion, such as leaving pamphlets about anti-abortion pregnancy centers at public restrooms or placing what Miller calls “notes of hope,” messages with anti-abortion resources, in the aisle where pregnancy tests are stocked at supermarkets and drugstores.
In October, she began volunteering as a “sidewalk counselor” with the Texas-based group Sidewalk Advocates for Life. This involves approaching patients outside Chicago-area abortion clinics to try and discourage them from terminating; she also encourages them to go to anti-abortion pregnancy centers instead.
That kind of work has recently come under fire in Illinois, where a 2023 law sought to bar crisis pregnancy centers from using “deceptive, fraudulent, and misleading information and practices” to dissuade patients who are considering abortion. But a federal judge last year blocked the measure, calling it “both stupid and very likely unconstitutional,” and the state agreed to drop enforcement in December.
Miller said the law, which was supported by many abortion providers and reproductive rights advocates, wasn’t surprising.
“The abortion industry is going to do anything they can to shut us down because they lose business when we’re out there,” she said. “Which is kind of our goal. We want them to go out of business.”
Miller recalled a weekday when she said she spoke with several abortion patients at a Chicago clinic. She believes one woman she talked to there decided not to terminate and instead sought help at an anti-abortion pregnancy center.
“It’s rewarding. You’re not going to have people turn away every time. That’s just not the case,” she said. “But it’s rewarding because you know you’re doing something for somebody beside yourself. I say that I’m pro-life and I have evidence to back it up. I’m out there, not just advocating for these unborn children. I’m advocating for the women.”
When Roe came down 51 years ago, Joseph Scheidler’s wife was pregnant with Miller’s mother, Catherine. Thoughts of his own daughter in the womb made the ruling even more painful — and inconceivable, recounted his son Eric Scheidler, executive director of the Pro-Life Action League.
“The United States Supreme Court just threw her out of the human family,” added Eric Scheidler, Miller’s uncle.
During the 1980s, Joseph Scheidler’s work included late-night missions with a group of fellow activists to salvage thousands of fetal remains from the dumpsters and loading docks of abortion clinics. The remains were later buried at cemeteries across the country and memorialized at annual prayer services organized by anti-abortion advocates.
Miller recalled a moment at her grandfather’s home a few years ago, when he was sitting in his favorite chair and she was next to him on the sofa.
“I’m so sorry you were born at this time in Illinois,” she recalled him saying.
Her grandfather added that life was better in earlier decades — long before Roe — when he had grown up in Hartford City, Indiana.
But she told him there was a reason she was here during this pivotal time in Illinois, a state long considered a haven for abortion care, with some of the most liberal reproductive rights laws in the nation.
The year Roe fell, more than 56,000 abortions were performed in Illinois and nearly 17,000 patients traveled here from out of state, a 49% increase from the previous year, according to Illinois Department of Public Health data released earlier this month.
Joseph Scheidler, 93, died Jan. 18, 2021, a little over a year before the end of Roe.
“But he was very excited that I was continuing on his legacy and would be doing activism myself and helping to continue the pro-life movement,” Miller recalled.
The fall of Roe was devastating for Hannah Trueblood, who immediately feared for the rights and bodily autonomy of her now 10-year-old daughter.
“She’s why I do a lot of what I do, especially when it comes to reproductive freedom,” Trueblood said. “She is being raised in a world where she has less rights than I had when I was her age. And that is so backward to me. As a society we’re supposed to improve and grow and learn from our mistakes. But it seems, from a gender equality and reproductive standpoint, we’re backsliding big time.”
Julie Storbeck recalled walking with Trueblood’s daughter years ago past the Porter County Courthouse, where anti-abortion protesters would gather for weekly demonstrations, chanting and holding gruesome signs of aborted fetuses — images she didn’t want her toddler granddaughter to see.
The experience prompted Storbeck to organize weekly counter-protests nearby, where reproductive rights supporters held signs with messages like “Keep Abortion Legal” and “Abortion is Health Care.”
Sometimes passersby would avert their eyes or drivers would shout nasty messages at them. But Storbeck found the community reaction shifted over the years: Some women began giving the demonstrators hugs or sharing their own abortion stories. Strangers would buy the counterprotesters coffee or come by with cases of water, she recalled.
“It’s just grown since then,” she said. “It’s just amazing to see the sea change.”
Sixty-year-old Storbeck grew up in Illinois, in south suburban South Holland, and her reproductive rights activism began as a young adult volunteering for Planned Parenthood.
She recalled that during the 1980s and early 1990s, anti-abortion protesters would chain themselves to clinic doors or blockade the entrance, to prohibit patients from accessing care. Much of her work focused on the passage of the 1994 federal Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, which bars violence, threats or attempts to obstruct entry at reproductive health service agencies.
“Everybody should be able to access health care,” she said.
Trueblood and her daughter often join Storbeck at the weekly courthouse protests, three generations rallying together for reproductive rights and gender equality.
In August 2022, Indiana became the first state to pass a near-total abortion ban after Roe was overturned, though the measure was temporarily blocked from enforcement by the courts a week after it went into effect in September 2022. The law went back into effect in August 2023.
The year that Roe fell, more than 9,500 abortions were performed in Indiana, and just over 7,700 of the patients were in-state residents, according to the Indiana Department of Health.
Reproductive rights was a major issue for Trueblood when she recently ran for mayor of Valparaiso, the county seat of conservative-leaning Porter County, where 52% of voters supported Trump in the 2020 election.
During her campaign, she said she wanted to work with the City Council to ban anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centers from Valparaiso, arguing that they disseminate misinformation.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has warned that crisis pregnancy centers threaten public health and recommended lawmakers hold them “accountable for deceptive practices by, for example, enforcing and strengthening consumer protection laws against false and misleading advertising,” as well as other measures, according to an organization statement.
Trueblood believes that one day, abortion rights will be restored in Indiana as well as nationwide.
She’s certain there will be a “tipping point” where the majority of Americans will fight against laws that all but outlaw or severely restrict ending a pregnancy, measures she believes most of the public rejects.
A May Gallup poll found 34% of Americans think abortion should be legal in any circumstances and 51% believe it should be legal under certain circumstances, while only 13% of respondents said terminating a pregnancy should be illegal in all circumstances.
“My generation is passing the torch to her generation,” Storbeck said, referring to her daughter. “They’re fighting for the right to say that if I want to have a child, I will have a child. If I want to be pregnant, I will be pregnant. But if I don’t want to, that’s fine too. And I have the right as a sovereign individual in my own body to determine for myself how my body is used.”