It's 2025. What's Oak Park banning now?

Opinion

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By JIM BOWMAN, Columnist

FANTASTIC!...Good morning, Oak Park. It's February 2, 2025. We're into the century's second quarter or the last year of its first quarter, depending on your approach. It's not all that depends on your approach, and that's putting it mildly, because the sound of the A-word is heard in our village. Oak Park, once known for banning handguns and nuclear weapons and officially opposing the Patriot Act, is considering what some consider the ultimate non-progressive ordinance-?#34;a ban on abortion.

Yes, Illinois has not legalized abortion in the 10 years since Roe v. Wade was overturned by the court during Newt Gingrich's presidency. It's still a Democrat-blue state but has acquired some Republican-red pockets, not least of them Oak Park, which as we know had been a liberal bellwether since the 1960s. Analysts are puzzled by the change, including the dean of Oak Park journalists, Wednesday Journal editor and publisher Dan Haley. He spoke for many when he asked in a recent editorial: "Why us? Why here? Why now?"

Some look for an answer to the Great Migration of the 1990s and 2000s, during which Oak Park was reported in a 2004 survey as composed of one-third newcomers ?#34;-living here five years or less-?#34;and half living here 10 years or less.

Early signs of change were the elementary school district's refusal in 2004 to dismantle its wireless computer networks for public health reasons and the village board's unwillingness in 2005 to ban smoking in public places such as bars and restaurants. Some contemptuously likened these decisions to the rejection by townspeople of Ibsen's "Enemy of the People," who warned about the water supply, or to the early rebuff of the police chief in "Jaws," who warned about the shark.

Others muttered about the nanny state telling people how to live. They also said the smoking ban, aimed at the third-rated preventable cause of death, would have no more chance of success than prohibition of alcoholic beverages, the top-rated preventable cause.

In the end, pragmatism and a rough libertarianism did most to decide the matter. Restaurant owners claimed to know customers' wishes and wanted government to butt out. The village board, unwilling to hurt business, seemed also to agree in principle and declined to make indoor public smoking illegal. The conservative camel's nose was under the tent.

The village's newcomers, one-third of the population in 2004, may have contributed to a reluctance to support well-intended causes. Joining the Oak Park community was for them perhaps less a commitment to change than a vote for prosperity and convenience. They were more pragmatic than idealistic. The fire of the cause burned not in their eyes. For Oak Park's new libertarians, to be sure, abortion was not an issue, theirs being a live-and-let-live philosophy.

Indeed, many thought anti-abortionism was where things got creepy?#34;-a woman's body was her business, after all-?#34;and it was hardly a libertarian cause. But a few years ago, a funny thing happened. Abortion became a public health issue. Classed by a new surgeon general as the top-ranked preventable cause of death-?#34; of fetuses, that is, or as pro-lifers preferred, unborn infants?#34;-abortion shot to the top of public awareness of health issues. Drinking and smoking slipped to a distant second and third.

In short order, Oak Park's public health advocates caught fire in a manner reminiscent of earlier anti-gun, anti-nuclear, and anti-smoking campaigns. All along, it had been a matter of definition.

The upshot is that the village board has authorized the public health committee to hold hearings in the matter, per the committee's request. If the ordinance is passed, Oak Park will be an abortion-free zone, surrounded by municipalities that are not. Some observers say it can't happen here, in the land of Wright and Hemingway. Others say Oak Park has done odder things. We should all stay tuned.

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