Will Quier was working from home at his Lake View apartment when he heard the sound of women yelling and went to the window to check it out.
“It was two ladies going off about the sign and how they disagree with it,” Quier said.
The sign they took issue with read: “We support abortion on demand without apology.”
The message, written in plastic interchangeable letters, was behind a glass case and had been on display outside the Second Unitarian Church of Chicago since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June.
“One of the women asked a nearby workman sitting in a van to borrow tools to take the sign down. He ignored her. So she grabbed a little metal garden fencing out of the ground and hit the glass with it,” Quier said.
“And then they both go over and start throwing rocks at the church and I heard glass shatter,” he said.
As the pair wandered off, Quier, who’d been filming the incident on his phone, yelled, “You crackheads are on video!” prompting the women to whirl around several times in an unsuccessful attempt to locate the voice.
Quier, 29, left a voicemail message at the church office, and later shared the video with church leaders, who shared it with police.
The Rev. Jason Lydon, the church’s minister, said it was the first time anything like this has happened at the church. He quickly noted the plastic letters, which had been strewn about, are back in their place to convey the same message.
One of the thrown rocks left a fist-size hole in an image of a bird on a stained glass window that had been part of the church since the 1970s. It was created by a gay congregant who wanted to convey inclusivity after experiencing police violence against gay men in bars in Chicago, Lydon said.
No one was in the church and no one was injured during the incident, which occurred shortly before 4 p.m. Wednesday.
“We will not be intimidated by individuals damaging our property,” Lydon said. “We know that pregnant people deserve to have autonomy over their body. This act of property destruction is intended to silence us and create fear. We will not be afraid and we will not be quiet. Abortion access is under attack and we will use our voice to speak out.”
The incident has drawn national media attention.
Ann Scheidler, president of the Chicago-based Pro Life Action League, an anti-abortion group, denounced the women’s action.
“Vandalism is never acceptable. It’s not the response to something you don’t agree with. These ladies should have knocked on the door and asked to speak to the pastor about why they thought the sign was offensive,” Scheidler said.
Lydon agreed when told of Scheidler’s take on the incident.
“Yes. They should have,” Lydon said. “I would have been happy to have a conversation . . . that’s how we address conflict in our own community.”
Church leaders are responding to the incident by hosting a “standout in support of reproductive justice” at noon Sept. 4 at the church, 656 W. Barry Ave.
“It’s sad and infuriating to experience this violent response to our support for women,” said Christy Grant, chair of the church’s board. “Still, in these heated political times, we have chosen to side with love and use our voice for justice.”
After the Supreme Court’s June decision in Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security warned that abortion providers and judges, as well as churches representing both sides of the abortion issue, faced increased risk of violence “for weeks.”
Planned Parenthood of Illinois President and CEO Jennifer Welch said the organization has not experienced an increase in vandalism or violence since the Supreme Court decision but said there has been an increase in protest activity. Planned Parenthood operates 17 health centers in Illinois, including six that perform in-clinic abortion procedures.
“PPIL condemns any vandalism that affects abortion access at PPIL or any organization that supports reproductive rights,” Welch said. “There is no room for such violent, hateful acts in our community. Vandalism like what happened at the Second Unitarian Church of Chicago accomplishes nothing and only strengthens our resolve to continue providing the crucial reproductive health care that people need and deserve in Illinois and the Midwest.”
Lydon estimated repairs to the church could cost more than $1,000. Police are looking for the women.